By Thomas Escritt
THE HAGUE (Reuters) - Libya can guarantee the son of its former dictator a fair trial, Libyan government lawyers said on Tuesday at a hearing on whether Saif al-Islam Gaddafi should face justice at home or at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague.
ICC judges will rule whether Libya is capable of properly trying the man once seen as Gaddafi's heir-apparent or whether it should extradite him to the Hague.
If ICC judges rule Libya is unable to give Saif al-Islam a fair trial, the court has no power to force Libya to comply. But Libya would then be in violation of international law and the will of the United Nations Security Council.
Counsel for the Libyan government, Philippe Sands, told the first day of the two-day hearing at the ICC there was no truth in accusations by ICC defense lawyers that Gaddafi's son had been physically mistreated by Libyan authorities.
British-educated Saif al-Islam was caught in the Libyan desert in November and the international court's prosecutor has charged him with crimes against humanity committed during the uprising that toppled his father.
But Melinda Taylor, the ICC-appointed defense lawyer who was detained in Libya in June along with three colleagues for almost a month, told the court the Libyan government's claims "bore no relationship to the facts on the ground".
"The Libyan government has tried to turn it round by accusing the defense of making false allegations," she said.
Sands had earlier warned the court to treat with "caution" any claims made by the defense.
But Taylor warned the court not to trust the Libyan government. She had trusted Libya's assertions that her privilege as an attorney would be respected, she said, and "as a result, counsel ended up spending 26 days in jail".
Another issue for the court is that Libya practices the death penalty, though lawyers for the Libyan government said it was only carried out in exceptional cases.
An ICC prosecution lawyer said on Tuesday she was content with Libya's investigation, saying it covered more allegations than the ICC's own.
"The job of the prosecutor is not to push to the front and elbow aside states which are genuinely willing and able to prosecute crimes," said prosecutor Sara Criscitelli.
Libya had said it would put Saif al-Islam on trial in September but later said this would be delayed by five months in order to include information obtained from the interrogation of former spy chief Abdullah al-Senussi.
Libya needs time to carry out a thorough investigation of Saif al-Islam's alleged crimes in order to try him fairly, Sands said.
"We are aware from many other parts of the world what such a rushed trial can lead to," he said.
(Reporting by Thomas Escritt; Editing by Jon Hemming)