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Friday, January 15, 1999 Published at 16:29 GMT

UK Politics

Lord Hoffmann: A conservative liberal

Lord Hoffmann is said to be the cleverest law lord of his generation.

But now he faces a reassessment of his future in the highest court in the land after failing to declare his interests, and those of his wife, in the human rights group Amnesty International before being one of the five law lords who sat in judgement on General Augusto Pinochet.

The pinochet File
Lord Hoffmann of Chedworth in Gloucestershire is the chairman and director of Amnesty International Charity Limited. AICL's role is to undertake those aspects of the work done by the human rights organisation which are charitable under UK law.

However, the link was only disclosed after the Lord's judgement on the former Chilean dictator's appeal against moves to extradite him to Spain where he faces a long list of human rights crimes relating to his brutal military rule of the country from 1973-1990.

Responding to allegations of bias, a spokesman for Amnesty said Lord Hoffmann had "no involvement whatsoever in Amnesty International's campaigning work on the Pinochet case".

First class Rhodes Scholar

Lord Hoffman was once described by Legal Business magazine as "the most dominant personality in the Lords by a mile".

Lennie Hoffmann was born in 1934 into a Jewish family from Muizenberg, near Cape Town.

He studied at Cape Town University and then at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, where he got a first.

He taught at Oxford before embarking on a career at the Bar, specialising in corporate law, where he is estimated to have earned £500,000 a year as one of the most sought after silks.

His first case as a young barrister was to represent a law student who had been thrown out of his Bayswater lodgings for complaining his rent was too high.

Later, as he judge, he earned a reputation for not tolerating inefficiency or waffle.

Conservative tendencies

Although he has gained a reputation as a liberal, he has also displayed conservative tendencies.

As a High Court judge, he told journalist William Goodwin to reveal his sources behind a story for The Engineer, a ruling that was held a breach of human rights by the European Court in Strasbourg.

While sitting on the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, he ruled against an appeal in a Caribbean death penalty case which Amnesty had backed. The defendant was executed.

[ image: General Pinochet: Lord Hoffmann ruled he could be extradited]
General Pinochet: Lord Hoffmann ruled he could be extradited
At the time of the Neil Hamilton cash-for-questions row, it was Lord Hoffmann who put down an amendment to change the law on parliamentary privilege, which allowed the MP to sue The Guardian for libel.

In 1957, he married Gillian Sterner, whose work as an administrator with Amnesty for 20 years first attracted the attention of General Augusto Pinochet's lawyers.

The couple have two daughters and two grandchildren and live in Hampstead, north London. They also have a weekend cottage in Chedworth, Gloucestershire.

Former regular at Stringfellows

An opera lover who has served on the board of English National Opera and on the Arts Council, Lord Hoffmann is also a keen cyclist.

In 1994 he raised £8,000 for St Hilda's College, Oxford, by pedalling 1,200 miles to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.

Among his other haunts was Stringfellows nightclub, which he began to visit after meeting Peter Stringfellow during a court case.

Lord Hoffmann stopped going to the club after being made the Lord Justice of Appeal in l992 because of the possibility of adverse publicity.

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