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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 November, 2003, 13:53 GMT
Law lord known for liberal outlook
Lord Steyn
Lord Steyn has been vocal on a number of human rights issues
Lord Steyn's scathing comments on Guantanamo Bay come from a judge known as one of the most liberal of the UK's 12 law lords. BBC News Online profiles him.

The 71 year old - one of the country's most senior judges - said the US was guilty of a "monstrous failure of justice".

Also on his CV is his instrumental role in ruling that former Chilean dictator General Pinochet should not be immune from prosecution for alleged criminal acts during his rule.

And Lord Steyn is among a minority of law lords to support legal and constitutional reforms, including the abolition of the Lord Chancellor.

He was recently one of only four law lords to support proposals to replace the House of Lords as the highest court in the land with a new independent supreme court.

Johan van Zyl Steyn was born on 15 August 1932, and educated in South Africa.

'Weasel words'

After practising law in South Africa for 15 years, he settled in the UK and started practising at the Bar in 1973.

He was appointed a lord of appeal in 1995, which at the same time made him Baron Steyn, of Swafield in Norfolk.

Married to Susan Leonore since 1977, he has two sons and two daughters from a previous marriage, plus one stepson and one stepdaughter.

His liberal attitudes have been praised by human rights activists.

During the Pinochet debate in 1998 Lord Steyn said arguments defending the dictator's immunity from prosecution would also mean Hitler's "final solution" to exterminate the Jews was lawful.

In June 2003 he accused the Home Secretary David Blunkett of using "weasel words" in seeking to justify his policy on asylum seekers.

And Lord Steyn recently supported a London Privy Council ruling that Trinidad's mandatory death sentence for murder was unconsitutional.

He said the protection of "guaranteed fundamental rights" was the responsibility of the judiciary and not the parliament.

He did however agree with a ruling in 2001 that the UK home secretary could impose "whole life" sentences for the most heinous offences, provided they were kept under review.

In response to Moors murderer Myra Hindley's bid to the Lords to be released from prison, Lord Steyn said: "Even in the sordid history of crimes against children the murders committeed by Hindley, jointly with Ian Brady, were uniquely evil."

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