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Wednesday, March 24, 1999 Published at 15:37 GMT


Q & A: Today's ruling explained




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BBC Legal Affairs Correspondent Joshua Rozenberg explains the Law Lords second ruling on the extradition of General Augusto Pinochet:

This could seem like a partial victory for General Pinochet. Is that right?

I think it is quite a substantial victory for General Pinochet. He's still in custody, he's still under the jurisdiction of the court, he could still face charges.

It's obviously a substantial victory, while maintaining one important principle: that you can't have total immunity, whatever you do, just because you are a former head of state.

So you only need to be really worried, if you are a former dictator, if most of those offences were committed after 1988?

That's absolutely right. What the Law Lords are saying is that before 1988 he does have immunity. This is straightforward extradition law, which says very properly that if you are going to send somebody for trial in a foreign country, it must be a crime according to the law of the foreign country and the law of our own country.

"Fair enough," you may say,"we wouldn't send people to be tried in a foreign country for something we don't consider to be a crime."

Why is 1988 significant as far as torture is concerned? Normally of course we don't try foreigners for offences committed abroad. In 1988 we assumed this overwhelming jurisdiction to try people who are here, wherever the [torture] offences allegedly took place and whatever their nationality.

Hadn't the Law Lords already ruled on this issue?

Yes, last November. But their ruling was set aside in December because five different Law Lords decided that one of the original judges, Lord Hoffmann, was disqualified from sitting. That was because he was a director of Amnesty International Charity Ltd, a company controlled by Amnesty International, a party to the case.

Could they have ruled differently this time?

Certainly. There was a fresh hearing, lasting twice as long, before a new panel of Law Lords.

What further steps before he is extradited to Spain?

There could be a lengthy challenge in the courts. If the courts say that extradition should go ahead, Jack Straw will have to decide whether to hand General Pinochet over to Spain.

How long before we see him facing charges in court?

It is impossible to say. It could be many months.

Will this case set a precedent - whatever the upshot?

The Law Lords' judgements will be studied around the world. They will be binding on the courts of England and Wales; they may be profoundly influential in other jurisdictions.



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