LORD Advocate Frank Mulholland’s agreement to meet the family of murder victim Surjit Singh Chhokar is welcome.
Since the young man was stabbed to death in Overtown, Lanarkshire in 1998, his family has endured the same agonies as the family of Stephen Lawrence, murdered in a similarly racist attack 18 years ago at a bus stop in south London. Indeed, the case has been dubbed “Scotland’s Stephen Lawrence”.
Suspects have been identified and brought to trial, but have escaped a verdict because of failings in the legal system. As with the Lawrence case, an inquiry found evidence of institutional racism in the police and the prosecution service. But with the conviction of at least two of Mr Lawrence’s killers in a recent trial at the Old Bailey, the parallels end as Mr Chhokar’s family still await justice.
By what they have said, the family are aware that the successful prosecution of Mr Lawrence’s killers does not automatically mean that there will be a successful prosecution of Mr Chhokar’s murderers. Though the centuries-old law prohibiting re-trial has also been changed in Scotland – the so-called double jeopardy rule – the evidential rules mean that there must be new evidence of a substantial nature before any suspects can face a new trial.
Of almost equal importance is an understanding of what the authorities are doing to obtain that evidence. Though this task will be difficult and may eventually be fruitless, Mr Chhokar’s family are entitled to seek peace and justice and to know, in some detail, the efforts that are being made to see that justice is being properly served in this tragic case.