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Wednesday, December 16, 1998 Published at 15:11 GMT


Amnesty link 'could have sparked anarchy'

General Pinochet is fighting his extradition to Spain

The links between a Law Lords and Amnesty International could have caused anarchy if declared, an appeal has heard.

A new panel of Law Lords is considering whether Lord Hoffmann's directorship of the human rights group charitable arm makes the lords' original ruling invalid.

Lord Hoffmann was one of five Law Lords who ruled by a 3-2 majority that General Augusto Pinochet does not have sovereign immunity.

A separate panel of five Law Lords heard on Wednesday that if Lord Hoffmann had made a statement about his relationship with Amnesty International before last month's hearing, it would have triggered a series of objections to the make-up of the original panel.

The pinochet File
In an unprecedented move, General Pinochet's lawyers are asking the UK's highest court to overturn the 25 November judgement by the earlier panel.

That ruling cleared the way for Home Secretary Jack Straw's decision last week to authorise extradition proceedings against the general to go ahead.

Spain wants the former Chilean dictator to face charges of human rights crimes relating to his 1973-90 rule.

The former dictator's lawyers are arguing that Lord Hoffmann's relationship with Amnesty International, which has backed previous efforts to have the 83-year-old general prosecuted in the UK, gave rise to a real danger of bias in the outcome.

Lord Hoffmann cast the deciding vote in the original Lords ruling, which was passed by a 3-2 majority.

On the second day of the new hearing, Alun Jones QC for the Spanish government asked the new panel to consider what would have happened if Lord Hoffmann had declared the relationship.

[ image: Lord Hoffmann: Accused of bias]
Lord Hoffmann: Accused of bias
"The petitioners are likely to have wished to argue that he should withdraw from the case

"If there had been an objection, what they would really have been objecting to was not his association with the charity, but the view he is perceived to take on questions of human rights.

"Once that objection starts being entertained, lawyers on the other side might start taking exception to Lords X or Y. It's a potentially anarchic situation."

Mr Jones also invited the new panel to make inquiries to as to whether Lord Hoffmann mentioned his connection with Amnesty to the other members of the original panel.

Mr Jones told the hearing that judges bring with them to court attitudes and views. That was inevitable and no grounds for objecting to a particular judge hearing a case, he suggested.

Mr Jones said the fact that Lord Hoffmann's association with Amnesty was well documented might provide an explanation as to why he did not make a declaration at the start of the original hearing.

He added that there was nothing unusual about the views espoused by Amnesty and Lord Hoffmann, in terms of hostility to torture and extra-judicial detentions and executions.

"These are the type of aims which all members of the judiciary would support," he said.

As evidence of Lord Hoffmann's objectivity, Mr Jones pointed out that sitting in the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, the Law Lord had ruled against a defendant's appeal in a Caribbean death penalty case.

Amnesty, however, has long campaigned for the worldwide abolition of the death penalty.

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