THE lawyer for the family of an Asian waiter stabbed to death in Lanarkshire 13 years ago in a case dubbed the "Scottish Stephen Lawrence" wants the murder to be reinvestigated in light of changes to double jeopardy law.

Aamer Anwar, solicitor for the family of Surjit Singh Chhokar, said the Crown Office is missing opportunities to track down his killers. The chief of Strathclyde CID at the time of the murder, Graeme Pearson, also wants the investigation reopened and for the Crown Office to give the go-ahead for fresh appeals for information. Surjit's parents back Anwar and Pearson.

Chhokar, 32, was stabbed to death outside the home he shared with his girlfriend in Overtown on November 4, 1998. The case became embroiled in controversy after the failure of authorities to bring a conviction for his killing despite the arrests of three men and two trials.

Ronnie Coulter walked free from the first murder trial in 1999 after he blamed his nephew, Andrew Coulter, and David Montgomery for the killing. Andrew Coulter and Montgomery stood trial the following year, but claimed Ronnie Coulter was responsible, and were also acquitted of murder.

Two official inquiries into the case made allegations of "institutional racism" and the then Lord Advocate, Colin Boyd QC, conceded that the family had been failed by the police and prosecution services. A public apology was issued in 2001.

However, changes to Scotland's centuries-old double jeopardy law which came into force at the end of last year have renewed hopes that Chhokar's killers can be brought to justice in a second trial.

Anwar said: "It seems to me that when it comes to high-profile cases such as Megrahi [the Lockerbie bomber] and the question of double jeopardy arises, the Crown Office seems to have no problem travelling the world, parading in press conferences and calling for justice, and no concerns arise about prejudicing any possible second trial. So I'm not quite sure why, when it comes to Chhokar, the Crown Office needs to play their cards close to their chest.

"When, 13 years ago, Surjit Singh Chhokar was murdered, it was in a tiny street in a tiny community, and there were many people who must have seen what happened. There were many people in that community who were terrorised.

"Thirteen years later there will be some people in that community who will have a guilty conscience, who will have thought that they should have come forward, but none is being given the opportunity to come forward if the Lord Advocate and Strathclyde Police do not make that public demand and do not make that public call in the robust manner that, let's say, the Metropolitan police commissioner has, that the CPS has, in the Lawrence case.

"Of course, there has been a decade of advances in forensic technology, and we would expect the best forensic expert. But the other issue that arises is new evidence, and that opportunity is being lost by the Lord Advocate playing it so carefully."

Pearson, who is now a Labour MSP, gave evidence at an inquiry into the handling of the case, and says the murder is "unfinished business".

He said: "It feels that there is unfinished business given the way this was handled by the Crown, allowing the accused to blame each other.

"In terms of the (Stephen) Lawrence case, the only similarities are the fact the victim was an ethnic minority, and that there is an opportunity to look at it again given the reform of the double jeopardy law."

Anwar has been in close contact with the Chhokar family and is due to meet with them again today with a view to preparing a formal request for a meeting with the Lord Advocate about reopening the case.

"The family said that they were relieved and happy that after so many years the Lawrences had finally got some form of justice, but the next question that came up was 'what about us?'," said Anwar. "Surely this is one of those cases that merits special attention because there was a fundamental failure to deliver justice.

"I know the family want the case reinvestigated. They're not naive to think it's just a case of taking it to trial. What I do not want is for the Crown to tread softly, softly because I think they're missing out on the opportunity to make a public appeal. It could take just one person to say: 'I saw what happened that night' . All it required in the Lawrence case was one scrap of forensic evidence to achieve justice."