We Don't Care What the Legal Arguments Are,we Just Want to See Justice; Anguish of Murdered Man's Family as Law Chief and Judge Clash

Daily Mail (London), March 12, 1999 | Go to article overview

We Don't Care What the Legal Arguments Are,we Just Want to See Justice; Anguish of Murdered Man's Family as Law Chief and Judge Clash


Byline: JONATHAN BROCKLEBANK

THEY waited four months for the three men accused of murdering their son to stand trial.

As they struggled to contain their grief, the prospect of seeing justice done provided a crumb of comfort.

But now the family of Surjit Chhokar have been left bewildered and devastated by a trial which has provoked an unprecedented legal row.

It centres on the Crown's handling of the case, which has left whoever killed 32-year-old Mr Chhokar still walking the streets.

Instead of finding three men in the dock when they went to court, the family found just one - and he was acquitted after he blamed the crime on the two others.

Now the family watch in torment as their son's tragic death is overshadowed by a public war of words between the two most senior figures in the Scottish legal establishment.

The wrangle between Lord McCluskey and Lord Hardie, the Lord Advocate, f o l l o w s t h e collapse of the trial of Ronnie Coulter, one of three men arrested and charged with Mr Chhokar's murder. It now remains unclear whether the other two will ever be prosecuted.

At the High Court in Glasgow on Tuesday, Coulter, 30, was found guilty of assault after blaming the two others for the murder in a special defence. But he walked free after the Crown decided not to move for sentence.

In language rarely heard from the bench Lord McCluskey, the trial judge, told the jury: 'A man was murdered in a public street by one or more persons who have been discussed in the course of this trial.

'For reasons I cannot begin to understand only one of these persons was placed in the dock. That is a matter for which to me, as a judge of considerable experience, passes all understanding.

'I will be taking steps to find out how that decision was reached.' The remarks drew a furious response from Lord Hardie, who is in charge of the Crown Office. He said: 'It is a matter of regret that a judge of such experience should make such public pronouncements in ignorance of the background to the case.

'Such uninformed and ill-advised remarks do not serve the interests of justice and fail to appreciate the respective roles of the Lord Advocate and the judiciary.' Lord Hardie said the Lord Advocate was not accountable to the High Court or any of its judges for such decisions and added: 'From the preliminary report given to me, I am satisfied the action taken in this case was the most appropriate and the reasons for it are sound.' But speaking from the family home in Bishopbriggs, Glasgow, last night, Mr Chhokar's sister Mangit, 37, said: 'We are not interested in what the legal people are arguing about, we just want justice. …

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