Tuesday, 8 December 2015

First sitting of High Court at Camp Zeist

[On this date in 1999 a High Court judge sat for the first time in the Scottish Court in the Netherlands at Camp Zeist. The following are extracts from two reports to be found here and here in The Guardian:]

1.   The prosecution today won the first skirmish in the Lockerbie trial when a Scottish judge ruled that the two Libyan suspects in the Pan Am bombing should stand on conspiracy to murder charges.

In a significant victory for the prosecution ahead of next year's trial, presiding judge Lord Ranald Sutherland rejected a defence motion that the conspiracy to murder charges must be dropped because the December 1988 bombing which killed 270 people had not been planned on Scottish soil.

"I am satisfied that on the basis of what is set out in Charge 1, Scottish courts do have jurisdiction," judge Sutherland said. "When ... a crime of the utmost gravity has been conspired abroad, it appears to me quite illogical to say that we cannot put the conspirators on trial in Scotland, even though the conspiracy has been entered into abroad."

The judge also rejected a defence argument that that the suspects' alleged membership in the Libyan intelligence service was irrelevant to the case, saying "there is sufficient connection" to the men's background and the charges against them. (...)

The defence also wanted the description of the men as Libyan intelligence agents struck from the indictment, asserting that it casts doubt on the character of the defendants in violation of Scottish judicial procedures. The lead prosecutor, Scottish solicitor general Colin Boyd, rejected the notion that the court lacks jurisdiction and said the defendants' alleged membership in the Libyan intelligence agency was "the glue that holds the conspiracy together".

Mr Boyd also maintained that while the plan to blow up the jet was formed in Europe and north Africa, it was a "continuing crime" that ended only at the moment of the explosion over Scotland.

Legal experts said that despite the prosecution's weak showing on Tuesday, when Mr Boyd fumbled in rebutting defence arguments, there was a strong enough legal basis to support the court's authority to hear the conspiracy charges.

2.  Presiding over a pre-trial hearing at a specially-constituted court in the Netherlands, Lord Sutherland struck a serious blow at defence efforts by dismissing arguments that the two men should not face a count of conspiracy.

But he agreed to delay the start of the trial until May 3, and warned that witnesses appearing for the prosecution of Abdel Basset al-Megrahi and Al-Amin Khalifa Fahima could not be heavily disguised, despite fears for their safety.

Colin Boyd QC, solicitor-general for Scotland, had referred to the need to protect serving CIA officers as well as former officers of the East German ministry of state security - the Stasi - and a Libyan defector and witness named Abdul Majid Abdul-Salam Giaka, now believed to be living in the US.

Also included in the prosecution request were a Swedish intelligence officer, a Maltese woman translator, and a member of the British security services - "Mr A".

William Taylor QC, for Megrahi, complained: "It would be a travesty of justice and inevitably restrict the court's examination of those individuals."

Lord Sutherland said: "'The court must have regard to the demeanour of a witness, including facial expressions."

Granting the defence request to put back the start of the trial, originally due to start on February 2, the judge said: "It is abundantly clear from the nature of the indictment ... that preparation of the defence case is one of exceptional difficulty."

Over 1,100 witnesses and more than 2,300 documents are expected to be considered in the case against the two Libyans, accused of murder, conspiracy to murder and contravention of the aviation security act for their alleged role in the bombing of PanAm Flight 103 on December 21, 1988.

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