Chhokar conviction comes after changes to double jeopardy law

Ronnie Coulter outside the High Court.
Ronnie Coulter outside the High Court.
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The conviction of Ronnie Coulter brings the Chhokar family’s long fight for justice to an end.

It would not have been possible, however, but for a change to the double jeopardy law which allowed Coulter’s original acquittal to be set aside.

In 1999 Coulter was found not guilty of murdering Mr Chhokar following a high-profile trial.

He had lodged a special defence of incrimination, blaming his nephew Andrew Coulter and David Montgomery for the murder.

After he walked free, trial judge Lord McCluskey issued a rebuke to prosecutors for failing to indict all three men together.

Speaking at the end of the trial, he said: “A man was murdered in a public street by one or more persons who have been discussed in the course of this trial, and 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 my understanding altogether, and I cannot begin to understand what has happened.”

The following year Andrew Coulter and David Montgomery were cleared of the murder in a separate trial.

Just as Coulter had blamed the other two in the original trial, the pair blamed him for the murder.

It was only with the introduction of new legislation in 2011 that the case could be re-examined.

The Double Jeopardy (Scotland) Act allowed exceptions to be permitted to the centuries-old principle that acquitted suspects could not be retried.

The Chhokar case becomes only the second time in Scottish legal history that an accused has been tried twice for the same crime following the conviction of Angus Sinclair for the 1977 World’s End murders after a second trial in 2014.