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Sunday, December 20, 1998 Published at 06:18 GMT


Law lord keeps own counsel

Lord Hoffmann: Not saying anything on General Pinochet until the new year

The judge whose links to a human rights organisation led the Law Lords to overturn one of their own judgements on the General Pinochet case has refused to speak about the affair until the Lords give a full reason for their decision in the New Year.

The pinochet File
Lord Hoffmann cast the deciding vote in the original hearing that ruled that the former Chilean dictator did not have immunity from prosecution for alleged human rights crimes.

But last week the Law Lords unanimously set aside the ruling that General Pinochet must remain in the UK to face extradition proceedings, after the general's lawyers argued at an appeal that the original decision was unfair because Lord Hoffmann was a long-serving director of the charitable arm of Amnesty International.

General Pinochet's lawyers had argued that the Law Lord's position - coupled with his wife Gillian's job with the human rights group - gave rise to "a real danger of bias".

New hope for Pinochet

The BBC's Joshua Rozenberg reports
The Law Lords' decision gave the former dictator fresh hope of avoiding extradition to Spain to face trial, as a new panel of judges will have to reconsider in January whether General Pinochet does have immunity from prosecution.

Calls later came for Lord Hoffmann to resign for not declaring that he had links with Amnesty International.

Questions remain about Lord Hoffmann's involvement in the Pinochet case, including why he did not declare his position with the human rights group, or whether his position was widely known or known even to the other four judges on the original panel of Law Lords which allowed Amnesty International to intervene in the Pinochet case.

Lord Hoffmann - who has recently been sitting as a judge in Hong Kong - has not yet given his own side of the story .

Lord Hoffmann told the BBC that he would not be making any comment until after he sees the full reasons for the Law Lords' unprecedented decision to set aside one of their own rulings.

Those reasons are not expected until 12 January. The BBC's Legal Affairs Correspondent Joshua Rozenberg says it will only then become clear whether the judges have put Lord Hoffmann in a position where he feels he has to resign.

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