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Wednesday, 12 January, 2000, 14:41 GMT
Q & A: Could Pinochet still stand trial?

The BBC's legal affairs correspondent Jane Peel explains the latest developments in the Pinochet case.

What is medically wrong with General Pinochet?

The details of the medical report of the four specialists who examined the General on 5 January are confidential. We have been told by doctors who've treated him in the past that he has had a series of minor strokes, he has a heart pacemaker fitted, he is suffering from diabetes, is permanently giddy and unsteady on his feet. The independent doctors appointed by the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, have concluded that he is both physically and mentally unfit to stand trial and that there is unlikely to be any change in his condition.

Why did the Home Secretary Jack Straw announce he was "minded to" decide Gen Pinochet should not be extradited - instead of deciding definitely one way or the other?

It is likely to have been so that his final decision, when it comes, cannot be successfully challenged in the courts. If he is open to receiving representations from all interested parties (he has given them seven days to make their views known) and considers their comments before reaching a conclusion, then it would be harder for his opponents to argue that the decision was irrational.

Could Gen Pinochet still face charges in Spain or elsewhere?

If he is not extradited to Spain, he could only face prosecution there or in another country if he travels abroad and is placed under arrest. Technically he could still face criminal charges in Britain, but if he has been declared unfit to stand trial by British medical experts then it is inconceivable that the director of public prosecutions would authorise a prosecution here. The Chilean authorities say it is still possible the general could face trial when he returns home, if the Chilean courts decide to strip him of the immunity he has as a senator for life.

What actions are his opponents taking to try to make him stand trial?

They say they will make representations to the Home Secretary. They could also try to challenge his decision through Judicial Review proceedings in the High Court. They face an uphill task - in particular because they are not allowed to see the medical report on which his provisional decision is based.

So what happens now?

The home secretary waits seven days for all representations to arrive. He has promised he will then make a very prompt final decision. But it's looking increasingly likely that General Pinochet will soon be on his way home to Chile, rather than to Spain to face trial on torture charges.
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See also:
08 Oct 99 |  UK
Q & A: What next for Pinochet?
11 Jan 00 |  UK
Anger over Pinochet decision
11 Jan 00 |  Americas
Spain and Chile accept Pinochet decision
12 Jan 00 |  UK
Uproar over Pinochet statement
12 Jan 00 |  UK
Home Office statement in full
05 Jan 00 |  UK
Health check for Pinochet
05 Jan 00 |  Medical notes
Health and ageing
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