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Friday, 21 January, 2000, 14:39 GMT
Straw pressured over Pinochet report

Pinochet: Final decision expected within days

UK Home Secretary Jack Straw is facing mounting criticism for keeping secret the medical reports which led to him favouring the release of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.

The pinochet File
The chairman of the medical ethics committee at the British Medical Association (BMA), which represents doctors, has added to calls for the report to be disclosed and tested in court.

In a letter to The Times newspaper, Michael Wilks said the examination had been carried out in a "forensic capacity" and should therefore be "disclosable in any judicial procedures".

He said: "The principle of confidentiality is not absolute.

Michael Wilks: Letter to press
"If the matter proceeds to any further legal review, reports obtained...if relevant to the issue of fitness to stand trial, may be disclosed, under the direction of a judge."

Following the 5 January medical examination, Mr Straw said he was "minded" to release the 84-year-old general, who remained under house arrest in Britain pending extradition to Spain on torture charges.

The examination, carried out by four doctors at a London hospital, had concluded the general was medically unfit to stand trial.

But Mr Straw refused to release details of the examination on the grounds of patient-doctor confidentiality.

Human rights organisations, the authorities in France and Belgium and the Spanish judge who wants to see General Pinochet stand trial, have all criticised the secrecy.

Protesters say they need to see the report
They said they could not mount a meaningful challenge to any final decision Mr Straw may make unless they had seen the report.

Mr Straw, who is expected to make his final decision within days, is sticking to his decision not to release the report.

On Friday he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I've made the decisions I have made in respect of Senator Pinochet on the basis of very, very careful legal advice."

A Chilean air force plane is waiting on a runway in Bermuda, waiting for the call to fetch General Pinochet from the UK if he is released.

On Thursday the Spanish Government blocked an attempt by Judge Baltasar Garzon to file an immediate appeal if the general is freed, saying it did not want to harm relations with Chile.

Chile has said General Pinochet could still face trial if he returns home.

The general, who headed Chile's military government between 1973 and 1990, is facing more than 50 lawsuits but could be entitled to immunity as a lifelong senator.

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See also:
17 Jan 00 |  Europe
Call for more Pinochet tests
17 Jan 00 |  Europe
Last-ditch attempt to block Pinochet release
11 Jan 00 |  UK
Anger over Pinochet decision
11 Jan 00 |  Americas
Pinochet faces trial in Chile
05 Jan 00 |  UK
Too ill to face the law?
18 Jan 00 |  UK
Pinochet plane delayed

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