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Wednesday, 9 February, 2000, 18:46 GMT
Judgment reserved in Pinochet case

Anti-Pinochet demonstration Anti-Pinochet protesters gather outside the High Court

The UK's High Court will rule next week on whether Home Secretary Jack Straw should disclose crucial medical reports on former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.

Belgium and six human rights groups want to assess the evidence that led him to declare that General Pinochet, 84, is unfit to be extradited to Spain to face trial on torture charges.

The pinochet File
After a three-day hearing, Lord Justice Simon Brown, sitting with two other judges, said the court hoped to give its decision "sometime perhaps around the middle of next week".

Lawyers for Belgium, supported by the human rights groups, argued that the home secretary's decision was fundamentally flawed and the countries seeking General Pinochet's extradition should be allowed access to the report so that they could make a "meaningful" response.

'Not desperate to succeed'

Earlier on Wednesday, Jonathan Sumption QC, appearing for Mr Straw, said the minister was not "desperate to succeed" in the current legal battle.

He said: "Your lordships are well are of the personal preference of the Secretary of State, whose concern in this matter is simply to act in accordance with law."

He said that throughout the case, Mr Straw had made no secret that he would prefer the report to be published but considers himself bound by an undertaking to General Pinochet that the report would remain confidential.

However, Mr Sumption argued in court that General Pinochet had a right to have medical information about himself kept confidential.

"Both the courts and the home secretary, subject to the important reservation of public interest, are bound to respect that," he added.

Mr Sumption told the judges that if they did rule that the report should be revealed to the Belgian authorities, Mr Straw would want it also made available to the other three countries wanting to extradite the general - Spain, France and Switzerland.

Legal wrangling

Counsel acting for General Pinochet told the court that Belgium had no legal right to intervene whatsoever.

It was entirely up to Mr Straw to decide whether or not the general should be extradited, and countries seeking the general's extradition had no role to play in the decision-making process.

Clive Nicholls, QC, warned on behalf of General Pinochet that to rule otherwise and allow the report to be sent to Belgium would create a situation where there would be "almost no end" to litigation.

The home secretary was exercising his exclusive discretionary powers under the 1989 Extradition Act, taking into account the European Convention on Extradition, he said.

"In our submission the Secretary of State has behaved perfectly properly and fairly, respecting the rights entrenched in the European Convention and in English law of the senator," said Mr Nicholls.

The human rights groups involved in the case are Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Redress trust, the Association of Relatives of the Disappeared, Justicia and the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture.

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See also:
08 Feb 00 |  UK
Pinochet opponents win legal point
03 Feb 00 |  Americas
Chilean lawsuit against Pinochet
31 Jan 00 |  UK
Pinochet appeal fails
31 Jan 00 |  UK
Pinochet supporters rejoice
26 Jan 00 |  Europe
Why Belgium cares about Pinochet
30 Jan 00 |  UK
Chilean plane waits for Pinochet
29 Jan 00 |  Americas
Ex-prisoners accuse Pinochet of torture
27 Jan 00 |  UK Politics
Belgium justifies Pinochet challenge
26 Jan 00 |  UK Politics
Pinochet medical test challenge

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