Tuesday 18 April 2017

Inside the Lockerbie court

[This is the headline over a report by Joshua Rozenberg that was published on the BBC News website on this date in 2000. It reads as follows:]

The trial of the two Libyans accused of the Lockerbie bombing begins on 3 May inside a £12m facility constructed for the hearing at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands.

It is just over a year since Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet Al Megrahi and Al Amin Khalifa Fhima surrendered for trial in a case unique in legal history.

Their trial will be held under Scottish law, but at a former military air base in the woods outside Utrecht.

Three judges, sitting without the normal jury of fifteen, will decide whether the two Libyans murdered the 270 people who died in the Lockerbie bombing.

But those judges will have to peer over large television monitors to see the two accused and the various witnesses.

I understand that the judges have asked for the monitors to be lowered so they'll have a better view of everyone in court; the screens will be moved down by just three inches.

The monitors, built into large cream-coloured housings, are the most striking feature of the courtroom: they take up much of the desk-space provided for those in court.

They can used be to show documents, video recordings, and television pictures from within the court itself.

Witnesses will sit at the far end of the court from the bench, which may make it difficult for judges to see their facial expressions and body language.

Another striking feature of the court is that press and public will separated from everyone else by a bullet-proof glass screen running from floor to ceiling; blinds can be raised so that vulnerable witnesses can give evidence without being seen.

In Scottish courtrooms the defence advocates are normally seated on the judges' left; at Camp Zeist, they'll have to sit on the other side of the courtroom so that the accused can be seated close to the door leading to the cells.

Officials working for the Scottish Court Service acknowledge there have been criticisms of the way the court has been designed; they say compromises are inevitable when an ordinary criminal trial has to be held under such extraordinary circumstances.

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