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Wednesday, November 25, 1998 Published at 15:37 GMT


Nail-biter in the Lords

The Lords await five minutes of high drama

The decision to permit extradition procedures to be started against former Chilean leader General Pinochet could not have been delivered in a more dramatic fashion.

Five Law Lords gave their verdicts in turn, but the order in which the split decision was given meant that supporters of the 83-year-old may have been celebrating prematurely.

[ image: Lord Slynn opens proceedings]
Lord Slynn opens proceedings
The first two lords to give their verdict were both in favour of letting the general leave the UK.

But just when preparations for his flight home might have been starting, the next two gave their verdicts, and they disagreed.

With what was effectively a 2-2 draw, it was left to the last man to sit in judgment, Lord Hoffman.

This is what each Law Lord said, in turn.

Lord Slynn: "For the reasons set out in the speech which I have prepared and which is available in print, I would hold that the respondent, as a former head of state, is immune from arrest in respect of the matters alleged in the warrant of October 22 1998, and I would dismiss the appeal."

[ image: Lord Lloyd's judgment is more good news for Pinochet]
Lord Lloyd's judgment is more good news for Pinochet
Lord Lloyd:
"In my opinion, the State of Chile is entitled to claim immunity on behalf of Senator Pinochet under the terms of the State Immunity Act of 1978 and at common law. I would therefore dismiss the appeal."

Lord Nicholls: "For the reasons set out in a speech which I have prepared in draft, and of which copies are available in print, I would reverse the decision of the Divisional Court, allow this appeal and hold that the respondent Senator Pinochet is not immune from the criminal process of this country, of which extradition forms part."

Lord Steyn: "For the reasons contained in my speech, copies of which are available to the parties, I would allow the appeal. The effect of my speech is that, in a correct interpretation of the law, General Pinochet has no immunity whatever."

[ image: A glance to the galleries from Lord Hoffman]
A glance to the galleries from Lord Hoffman
Lord Hoffmann:
"I have the advantage of reading in draft the speeches of my noble learned friends, Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead and Lord Steyn. I agree with them that Senator Pinochet does not have immunity from prosecution and I too therefore would allow the appeal."

His announcement was met with gasps around the chamber, and the Lord gave a glance towards the public gallery as he made the historic judgment.

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