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Thursday, December 17, 1998 Published at 15:17 GMT


Q & A: General Pinochet gets a second chance

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From: Joshua Rozenberg, BBC Legal Affairs Correspondent

Subject: The House of Lords overturning its previous decision that General Pinochet had immunity from prosecution.

Is this back to square one for General Pinochet?

The pinochet File
Not square one, perhaps square two. He's back where he was after the Lord Chief Justice and two other judges decided he did have immunity from prosecution as a former Head of State. That was at the end of October. He wasn't released immediately because the Spanish authorities, who are seeking his extradition, appealed to the House of Lords.

Can he feel any more relaxed now?

A little. Persuading the House of Lords he has immunity next month is his strongest chance of avoiding extradition.

If the new hearing finds he has immunity, the whole thing might start to look like a lottery. Is this likely to increase calls for reform of the system?

The Lord Chancellor has already told the law lords they must make every effort to ensure this state of affairs could not occur again. In future, panels of law lords who assemble to hear an appeal will have to consider whether there may be a conflict of interest. On the broader question, it is well understood that in difficult cases different judges have different views. While this may not be desirable, it is probably inevitable.

What's the point of having a highest court in the land if has been so willing to set aside its own judgment?

It would be very worrying if there was no way of setting aside a judgment when one of the judges was disqualified from sitting.

How in particular does it reflect on Lord Hoffmann?

It is difficult to see how he can continue to sit as a judge. He may wish to wait for the law lords to publish the reasons for their decision. Once these are available, in January, he may feel he has to resign.

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