Judgment will resonate round the world

FEW would relish the decision. Three of Scotland's most senior judges must decide whether to free on bail the man convicted of the biggest single act of mass murder in Scottish history.

Their job is to decide whether the grounds for Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi's current appeal against conviction are so compelling that they outweigh the horrors of the Lockberie bombing.

The law in the case is straightforward. An appellant seeking release on bail has to show that the grounds of his appeal would, if sustained, lead to his conviction being quashed.

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Professor Robert Black, a leading expert in the Lockerbie case, believes the Libyan has more than enough grounds.

He has stressed the appeal stems from a report from the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, which warned his conviction may have been a miscarriage of justice. But there are other, perhaps more compelling factors facing Lord Hamilton, Scotland's most senior judge, and two colleagues at Edinburgh's High Court who must decide later this week whether releasing Megrahi poses any danger to the public – or any risk of flight.

Here Megrahi's supporters can be confident. The 56-year-old faces a painful death from cancer within 12 months. Is he fit to flee the jurisdiction of Scottish justice? No. Is he likely to kill if freed?

As his conviction was for a politically motivated act of terror, a repeat attack hardly seems plausible, particularly in his physical state.

The Libyan's lawyers have declined to comment on their application. However, they may play the compassion card, saying Megrahi cannot receive the treatment he needs in Greenock Prison. And they may also stress the amount of time Megrahi has spent waiting for the outcome of the SCCRC review.

The Crown will have to decide whether to oppose bail, which it has in the past, arguing it should only be granted to convicted prisoners in 'exceptional' circumstances. A denial would leave Megrahi's lawyers with just once option: to put their application before Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill. It is not a decision he will relish either.