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Wednesday, January 13, 1999 Published at 06:56 GMT


Law Lords decide on Pinochet procedure

Law Lords will hear the case all over again

Britain's Law Lords are considering on Wednesday whether to allow the Chilean Government and human rights groups to take part in the rerun of the case to decide whether the former Chilean ruler, Augusto Pinochet, can be extradited to Spain.

The pinochet File
The Law Lords decided in November that he had no immunity from arrest and extradition, but last month that ruling was set aside because of concern about possible bias by one of the judges

Amnesty International's Brendan Paddy: Why the group wants to give evidence
The new full hearing begins next Monday.

The BBC's Diplomatic Correspondent Barnaby Mason, explains that the saga of General Pinochet, who is wanted in Spain to face charges of crimes against humanity, has already had several extraordinary twists.

[ image: Lord Hoffman: Links with Amnesty International]
Lord Hoffman: Links with Amnesty International
The first hearing by the Law Lords was hailed as historic, but turned into a fiasco because one of the judges, Lord Hoffman, had failed to declare long-standing links with Amnesty International.

Amnesty was represented in the case, along with other human rights organisations. They are seeking to take part again and this time they have been joined by the Chilean Government, which wants General Pinochet freed and allowed to return home.

After the first unhappy experience, the Law Lords may be inclined to say no to everyone. In that event, the case would be argued between General Pinochet's lawyers and those representing the Spanish Government.

The Law Lords have signalled its importance by announcing that seven judges, instead of five as last time, will hear the arguments next week.

This unusual step is apparently designed to restore confidence in Britain's highest court.

Newspapers are already trying to classify the judges as liberal or conservative in an attempt to predict how they will vote.

It is a legally complex and politically charged issue. General Pinochet's lawyers will again argue that former heads of state have absolute immunity for their official acts.

His opponents say this does not apply to certain crimes against humanity, like torture, which have been given a special status by international treaties.

  • Meanwhile, the Chilean ambassador to London is to resume his duties next week, a month after being called home to protest at the continued detention in Britain of General Pinochet.

    The foreign minister, Jose Miguel Insulza, said the government had decided Ambassador Mario Artaza's presence in London was necessary.

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