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Thursday, March 25, 1999 Published at 04:22 GMT


Straw considers Pinochet case

Pinochet opponents: Initial relief at verdict

The Law Lords' ruling in full

Home Secretary Jack Straw is considering the latest legal complexities entangling Spanish attempts to extradite former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet from Britain to face torture charges.

The pinochet File
The House of Lords on Wednesday put the responsibility for deciding General Pinochet's fate back on Mr Straw's shoulders by calling on him to reconsider the extradition case.

In a major boost to the general, the Law Lords reduced the number of charges against General Pinochet, and asked Mr Straw to reconsider the case. He has accepted their demand.

The general's lawyers immediately applied for a judicial review of Mr Straw's original decision to begin extradition proceedings - but three High Court judges adjourned the application until Monday.

The Chilean President, Eduardo Frei, welcomed the ruling, saying it recognised Chile's judicial sovereignty.

General Pinochet was arrested in London in October on an extradition warrant from Spain, which wants to try him over alleged human rights abuses.

The BBC's Joshua Rozenberg: Opponents of General Pinochet may be celebrating too soon
The Law Lords ruled by six to one that General Pinochet was not immune from prosecution, but he could face charges only on crimes committed after 1988, when Britain signed the International Convention Against Torture.

The majority of General Pinochet's alleged crimes occurred before 1988.

Watch the Law Lords deliver their judgments
But he could still be extradited on charges of torture, conspiracy to torture, and conspiracy to murder, the Law Lords said.

Clive Nicholls, QC, representing General Pinochet, said: "This is the clearest case where the Secretary of State's authority to proceed is fatally flawed."

Mixed reaction

As the verdict was announced, both opponents and supporters of General Pinochet celebrated outside the House of Lords in London and in the streets of the Chilean capital, Santiago.

Chairman of the panel of Law Lords Lord Browne-Wilkinson explains the ruling
Former prime minister Baroness Thatcher, a staunch supporter of the general, said that in the light of the judgment Mr Straw "should bring an end to this damaging episode and allow Senator Pinochet to return to Chile".

Meanwhile human rights lawyers and activists hailed the ruling as a landmark legal victory.

The United Nations High Commissioner of Human Rights, Mary Robinson, said the ruling was a ringing endorsement that torture is an international crime subject to universal jurisdiction.

More than 3,000 people were killed or disappeared in Chile between 1973 and 1990 when the general was in power.

Case far from over

The chairman of the Law Lords also called for the case to be reconsidered by Mr Straw.

[ image:  ]
"The allegations against Senator Pinochet are mainly allegations of torture and conspiracy to torture outside the UK," said Lord Browne-Wilkinson.

"Torture outside the United Kingdom was not a crime under the law of the United Kingdom until the 1988 Criminal Justice Act, Section 134, came into force on 29 September 1988."

If General Pinochet's lawyers lose before the High Court, they could appeal to the Law Lords again.

Second ruling

[ image: General Pinochet: Under house arrest]
General Pinochet: Under house arrest
General Pinochet was arrested on an extradition warrant from Spain last year.

The High Court ruled in his favour, but the following month five Law Lords allowed an appeal.

They held, by a 3-2 majority, that General Pinochet was not, as he claimed, immune to prosecution for acts committed as a head of state.

In a dramatic twist, the decision was subsequently set aside after it was revealed that Lord Hoffmann, who ruled against the general, had indirect connections to the anti-Pinochet human rights organisation, Amnesty International.

The new panel of seven Law Lords spent nearly twice as much time considering the case as their predecessors. They produced a supporting document that is reportedly 200 pages long.

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Internet Links

Lords' ruling in full

House of Lords - judicial information

Human Rights In Chile

President of Chile

Amnesty International UK

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