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Friday, October 8, 1999 Published at 17:13 GMT 18:13 UK


Q & A: What next for Pinochet?

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London's Bow Street Magistrates Court has ruled that General Augusto Pinochet can be extradited to Spain to stand trial for torture and human rights charges. BBC Home Affairs Correspondent Jane Peel answers questions on the latest twist in the long-running legal battle:

Does the latest ruling mean General Pinochet is closer to being extradited?

The pinochet File
Yes, but not necessarily that he will be extradited. The magistrate has decided that the conditions are satisfied for the extradition to go ahead, but it is ultimately for Home Secretary Jack Straw to decide whether or not he should be handed over to Spain. Mr Straw has wide discretion. He could block the extradition if he considers the 83-year-old general is too ill to face trial.

What can still prevent his extradition?

General Pinochet can appeal against the magistrate's ruling in the High Court, and possibly then to England's highest court, the House of Lords. His lawyers have 15 days from the date of the ruling to decide whether to appeal. If an appeal is lodged and fails, the case then goes to the home secretary for his decision which itself could be challenged in the courts.

If he is extradited, what charges would he actually have to face?

He can only be tried in Spain on the charges for which the courts here have agreed he can be extradited. There are 35 charges in total. One of a conspiracy with others to carry out torture and 34 individual charges of torture. The crimes are alleged to have been carried out against the general's political opponents in the last two years of his dictatorship.

Why is it all dragging on for so long?

General Pinochet was arrested in London on 16 October 1998. It has taken so long because he has used the legal process to challenge the extradition from the very start. He originally tried to get the case thrown out on the grounds that he had immunity from extradition because he was a former head of state. It was only when he lost that battle that the case could go back to the magistrate to consider the extradition.

How is it likely to end?

It is very difficult to predict, but if General Pinochet's health deteriorates still further, that will increase the pressure on the home secretary to release him.

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