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Thursday, April 15, 1999 Published at 10:35 GMT 11:35 UK


Pinochet ruling sets long legal course

Pinochet case has stirred strong emotions

The decision to allow to extradition proceedings against General Pinochet opens the way for months or even years of legal wrangling.

The Pinochet extradition case is taking such a long time because it is unprecedented in UK law.

The pinochet File
UK Home Secretary Jack Straw's ruling means that the court case over whether a Spanish extradition request should be granted can continue.

The full hearing has not begun at Bow Street Magistrates court in London, following an adjournment until 30 April. This is because the case's complexity and unprecedented nature mean that arguments so far have been over whether the case should be heard at all.

Three weeks ago the Law Lords ruled that General Pinochet could not be extradited on the majority of the 32 charges he faced on the original extradition application because the crimes were allegedly committed before 1988.

The BBC's Legal Affairs correspondent Joshua Rozenberg: "This could drag on for years"
That was when the courts of the UK were first given power to try or extradite those accused of committing torture abroad. This left only two charges in the original extradition application which allegedly occurred between 1988 and the end of General Pinochet's rule in Chile in 1990.

After making their ruling, the Law Lords called on the Home Secretary Jack Straw to reconsider whether he should authorise extradition for the two remaining torture charges.

Mr Straw re-considered the extradition request - making his original decision of 9 December null and void - and has now given his authority to proceed with the case.

[ image: Pinochet: Could face long stay in UK]
Pinochet: Could face long stay in UK
For their part, the Spanish authorities have come up with more than 30 new allegations which fit the new timescale.

Spanish lawyers will argue that the new allegations of torture should be added to the evidence supporting the case for extradition.

General Pinochet's lawyers will look at this ruling in great detail and try to find ways of challenging it by way of judicial review in the High Court. Whether these new cases can be taken into account will no doubt be one of the areas of legal wrangling.

It is thought that appeals from General Pinochet's side, backed by considerable funding, could take months or even years.

Finally, at the very end of this legal process, if the courts decide to send General Pinochet for trial in Spain, then the matter comes back to Mr Straw at the Home Office for final consideration again.

Straw's reasons

Mr Straw issued his reasons for giving authority by way of letter to the parties concerned.

In it he said he considered the decision with an open mind and that he was sure that the Spanish request was well founded as a matter of Spanish law and had been made in good faith.

The statement deals with offences committed after 1988 which are offences of torture and conspiracy to torture - the only outstanding offences.

Mr Straw says that torture does not have to be widespread or systematic for it to be considered. He said that General Pinochet does not have immunity from extradition in respect of those offences and does not have diplomatic immunity.

He ruled that the alleged offences are not political in nature because that would be one reason for turning down extradition.

The statement also said he does not think that the passage of time is a good reason for thinking it would be unjust or oppressive for the trial to go ahead, saying that these are serious offences and that if they were charged in the UK they could still be charged ten years after the events.

Mr Straw looked at the possibility of the case proceeding in Chile - but discounted this as there is no extradition request from Chile.

He looked at humanitarian considerations but does not think that 83-year-old General Pinochet is unfit to stand trial.

He also looked at the possible affect on stability of Chile and on Chile's relationship with UK - but decided that is not a reason to block extradition.

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