Rozenberg

The two Libyans accused of the Lockerbie bombing had been due to stand trial in The Netherlands this week. But there were no objections from reporters when their lawyers asked for the trial to be postponed for three months. Camp Zeist, the former military base in the woods outside Utrecht where the trial will be held, is a wet and windy place at this time of year. It should be warmer when the case starts in May. Being The Netherlands, perhaps bicycles will be provided for television reporters who'll have to walk four-fifths of a kilometre from the court itself to the car park where they'll edit and record their reports. But since the whole site is deemed to be part of the United Kingdom for all practical purposes, perhaps they won't.

A preliminary hearing has been scheduled for this week. That would be an ideal time for the presiding judge to allow the trial itself to be broadcast on radio and television. The court has an absolute discretion: it is not bound by section 41 of the Criminal Justice Act 1925, which makes it an offence to take photographs in the courts of England and Wales.

There will be sophisticated television cameras and microphones in the Scottish Court, as it is formally called, but the proceedings will not be broadcast to the public. Reporters will be able to watch the trial on television from an adjoining press centre, though they will not be allowed to make audio or video recordings. Relatives of those who died when the Pan Am jet exploded over Lockerbie have been promised a secure closed circuit television feed of the proceedings. But if they can watch the proceedings, why shouldn't the public see them too?

It's true that the two accused – or their lawyers – are not very keen on the idea. But would it prevent a fair trial? There is no jury to be influenced by nightly reports and there will be few witnesses who will find cameras more inhibiting than the prospect of giving evidence itself. Members of the security services will be giving evidence with their voices distorted and their faces obscured; some of them plan to wear disguises for good measure.

The English courts have already dipped a toe in the water. General Pinochet will be remembered for many things, not least for inspiring the first judicial sound bites in English legal history. Those who want to know how the Law Lords adapted their procedures to meet the needs of live television coverage may care to glance at last summer's edition of Public Law, reference [1999] P.L. 178.

A trial at first instance is different from an appeal, and televising the Lockerbie trial would mean that reporters could edit the pictures and select the highlights. But that is no more than they do every day. And this is not the thin end of the wedge: many of those who want cameras in court would have grave reservations about televising cases which were being tried by juries.

The British authorities do not want to give the impression that Lockerbie is some sort of show trial. But recent reforms have not penetrated north of the border; in Scotland they use Latin tags and obscurely named procedures in ways that would make Lord Woolf wince. Nobody who watches the Scottish courts would ever think they were designed with the outside world in mind.

Joshua Rozenberg is the BBC's legal affairs correspondent. He can be contacted at joshua.rozenberg@bbc.co.uk