BBC aims to show Lockerbie hearing

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The Independent Online
THE BBC is in competition with the United States broadcaster CNN to secure the right to televise the Lockerbie trial.

Cable News Network has done research showing there is enough interest among US audiences to offer television coverage of the trial of the suspected Libyan bombers. Many of the victims of the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 were Americans returning to New York. Tony Maddox, CNN managing editor for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said its lawyers would make an application to the Scottish courts when the time was right but would, for now, let the BBC make the running.

BBC lawyers and executives have discussed the possibility of using a 1992 change in Scottish law, which allows cameras into Scottish courts, to argue for the trial to be televised.

The court pictures would be either shown as part of a continuous live transmission in the same way the trial of O J Simpson was screened in the States or presented as highlights during news bulletins.

Fred Croft, head of legal affairs at the BBC, and Glenn Del Medico, head of programme legal advice, both said they supported televising the Lockerbie trial.

Although the Lockerbie court will be on Dutch soil, it will use Scottish lawyers and will be governed by Scottish laws. Under 1925 legislation, all cameras are prohibited from British courts. But guidelines drawn up in 1992 by Lord Hope, then head of the Scottish judiciary, permitted a procedure for allowing cameras into Scottish courts. A final decision would rest with the presiding judge in consultation with the senior Scottish judiciary.

Mr Croft said: "If they [the Scottish courts] were to decide in favour, it would be television that the BBC should give the public the opportunity to watch. I am all for openness for courts and for making the justice system transparent." The only precedent for allowing cameras into a UK court was in 1994 when the BBC televised a Scottish murder trial.

Mr Croft said that this had been a success with both the viewers and the Scottish judiciary. Mr Del Medico said that there was also a precedent for filming cases in unique circumstances. In the Nazi war crimes trial of Anthony Sawoniuk earlier this year the jury travelled to Russia to examine the scene. The English courts allowed the jury to be filmed as it made its inspection.

Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi and Lamen Khalifah Fhimah, both Libyan nationals, are being held at Camp Zeist, a former US air base in the Netherlands, where a court is being prepared that will have Scottish jurisdiction.

The trial, which could last for a year, is expected to start in February. The defendants' lawyers are understood to be opposed to allowing national television cameras in court.

British and American victims' families have been offered the chance of viewing the trial on closed-circuit TV in a "secure" building in their home countries. The trial will be conducted before a panel of three Scottish judges. Other than the judges, who replace the jury, the case will be held in accordance with Scottish criminal law.

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