THE Appeal Court will today announce whether three men will again stand trial for the murder of Surjit Singh Chhokar, following the reform of the double jeopardy law in Scotland.
Mr Chhokar, a waiter and father of two, was stabbed in the heart in November 1998 after a confrontation with a group of white men in Garrion Street, Overtown, Lanarkshire, a few yards from the home he shared with his girlfriend.
Three men were tried in two separate trials in 2000 but neither led to a conviction.
The murder drew comparisons with the Stephen Lawrence case in London after the family led a campaign for justice which resulted in two inquiries that found damning evidence of mistakes by police and prosecution.
However, Police Scotland has since conducted a new investigation into the murder and, on 10 November, the Crown Office made an application before the Appeal Court for permission to bring fresh proceedings against three men.
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A new trial is now possible following the introduction of the Double Jeopardy (Scotland) Act, which overturned the 800-year-old legal principle that an individual cannot be tried for the same crime twice.
Two weeks ago serial killer Angus Sinclair became the first person in Scottish criminal history to be tried twice for the same crime when he was convicted of the “World’s End” murders of Helen Scott and Christine Eadie. He was sentenced to 37 years in prison, the longest sentence in Scottish criminal history.
The decision to seek the quashing of the original acquittals against the three men accused of Mr Chhokar’s murder was made public in May after his family met the Lord Advocate. At the time the family’s lawyer Aamer Anwar said: “People may have forgotten his name but his family never gave up hope for justice. Today is an important step but the Chhokar family will only ever be at peace when there is justice.”
In 2001 Jim Wallace, then justice minister and the then-Lord Advocate, Colin Boyd QC, announced there would be two independent inquiries into the case. In the first report Sir Anthony Campbell, Justice of the Supreme Court of Northern Ireland, said there were “clear defects” in the prosecution process. In a second report, Dr Raj Jandoo, deputy chair of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry Steering group, criticised prosecutors for failing to keep the family fully informed and not providing a translator.
Earlier this year Mr Chhokar’s sister Manjit spoke of the strain the murder had placed on her parents Darshan, 75, and Gurdev, 71, who were reluctant to move into sheltered housing because they believed their son’s spirit visited them at the family home.
She said: “I love my brother, my parents lost their son, but nothing happened. My dad has had three cancer operations. My mum looks after him. It is sad to see them. She looks after him 24 hours a day. They always thought Surjit would be here for them in their old age. In my culture it is the son who cares for his parents. But Surjit is not there. We just wish he was alive. Our live changed that night when he was killed.”
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