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Tuesday, December 15, 1998 Published at 18:18 GMT


Pinochet ruling 'biased'

Lucia Pinochet, the general's wife, before the hearing

General Pinochet's legal team has set out its grounds for demanding a new top-level ruling on the former dictator's claim of immunity.

The pinochet File
They say the previous ruling by five Law Lords that the extradition process against the general should proceed is invalid because of one the law lord's, Lord Hoffman, has links to the human rights group Amnesty International.

At the start of Tuesday's hearing, before a new panel of Law Lords, a lawyer for General Pinochet said Lord Hoffmann's role as director of the human right's group charitable arm "gave rise at the very least to the real danger of bias".

The BBC's Joshua Rozenberg: "An unprecedented move"
But Lord Browne-Wilkinson indicated that the Law Lords would not consider the option of setting aside Lord Hoffmann's vote, which would change the five lords ruling from 3-2 to 2-2 as this would have the effect of confirming the ruling of the lower court and would set the general free.

[ image: Lord Hoffmann: Gave the final vote in the nail-biting ruling on General Pinochet]
Lord Hoffmann: Gave the final vote in the nail-biting ruling on General Pinochet
Ms Clare Montgomery QC representing the general told the UK's highest court: "The real danger of this case and the real danger of bias emerging is that this case provokes very strong emotions indeed.

"We submit and suggest that it is in cases such as this, where emotions may be running high, that it is most difficult to adopt a dispassionate attitude.

"Yet it is in cases of this sort that it is most essential that people do not give vent to emotion in disregard of right and due process."

But speaking for the Crown Prosecution Service, Alun Jones QC said General Pinochet's lawyers had known of Lord Hoffmann's links with Amnesty before Mr Straw's ruling of 9 December and had mentioned them in their representations to him. Close ruling

The close nature of the 25 November decision increases the tension surrounding the unprecedented appeal by General Pinochet.

[ image: Demonstrations: Pinochet supporters in numbers]
Demonstrations: Pinochet supporters in numbers
Lord Hoffman cast the final and deciding vote to reverse the prior ruling by the High Court that General Pinochet did have immunity.

That ruling cleared the way for Home Secretary Jack Straw to authorise the extradition process against the 83-year-old former dictator to Spain where he faces trial for torture and mass murder relating to thousands of deaths following his seizure of power in Chile's 1973 military coup.

But the generals lawyers are hoping to avert that process by having the Law Lords' decision found invalid and reversed at a second hearing.

Legal wrangling

The BBC's Jane Peel: "This has never been done before"
If the Lords agree with the general's lawyers, a further hearing will have to be convened to retest the diplomatic immunity argument.

[ image: General Pinochet has only been seen in public once since the extradition process began]
General Pinochet has only been seen in public once since the extradition process began
The move to challenge the Law Lords comes the day after solicitors for General Pinochet confirmed that they would be seeking a judicial review of the UK Home Secretary Jack Straw's decision to give an "Authority to Proceed" on extradition hearings.

The UK Home Office has declined to comment on the decision, other than to say that the general's lawyers are "within their rights" to seek a review.

While the legal moves continue, General Pinochet has himself made only one court appearance at the formal start of extradition proceedings last week.

The hearing continues on Wednesday.

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