Leading Article: The Scottish legal system is on trial with the suspects

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THE ARRIVAL in the Netherlands on Monday of Abdel Basset Ali al- Megrahi and al-Amin Khalifa Fhimah, the two Libyan men accused of planting the 1988 Lockerbie bomb, is a triumph for persistence and the willingness to compromise. The pressure applied by Jim Swire and other family members of the 270 victims, first on the British and American governments, and through them on the Libyan government, has proved that gradual diplomacy can work.

The bombing of Pan Am flight 103 from London to New York was nothing other than an act of mass murder against innocent people. Since the Sixties, such attacks on civilians have been a growing menace. Civilians throughout the world would be continually available as targets for whoever felt like taking a pot-shot unless perpetrators of terrorism are always punished.

However, revenge perverts justice. Any attempt on the part of the Americans to kidnap the two suspects would only have been to compound one crime with another. Criminals should be brought to trial by legal means. In this case, the absence of extradition agreements between Libya and either the United Kingdom or the United States made that more difficult. But through the endeavours of Mr Swire, Nelson Mandela, President of South Africa, and officials at the United Nations it was achieved.

The trial must be fair. Although the suspects are being held in a Dutch air base and will be tried in the Netherlands, they will be tried by Scottish judges under Scottish law. Therefore, the Scottish justice system is as much on trial as Messrs al-Megrahi and Fhimah.

There have been persistent rumours denying the guilt of these particular men, or of the involvement of Libya in the bombing. There were, and are, other groups and countries in the Middle East with grudges against America and Britain who would be prepared to bomb airliners. The Scottish judiciary has the highest standards and Britons will be confident that they will not convict unless the case is proved beyond reasonable doubt. However, it would be a stain on Scotland's criminal justice system if there were even the impression that the judges had bowed to governmental pressure to send these two men down. The Arab world must see that this trial is irreproachable. Otherwise it will merely feed the suspicion that there is one law for the West and another for the rest.

The fact that Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan leader, has allowed these men to stand trial points to the likelihood that there will not be a trail leading back to his country. If the Libyans are not guilty they may well be aware of who is. The Lockerbie families and the Western governments must be prepared for the fact that this is not the end of the process. But wherever the process goes, diplomacy must be its engine.