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Monday, March 29, 1999 Published at 18:43 GMT 19:43 UK

UK Politics

Straw sets Pinochet deadline

Senator Pinochet's future remains in the balance

Home Secretary Jack Straw has been given until 15 April to reconsider the fate of former Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet.

The pinochet File
Lawyers for General Pinochet were given the go-ahead in the High Court to challenge Mr Straw's decision last December to authorise extradition proceedings against him.

But the application was adjourned until the first available High Court date after 15 April, to give Mr Straw sufficient time to reconsider whether or not to issue a fresh authority to proceed.

BBC Legal Affairs Correspondent Joshua Rozenberg explains the latest developments
Lord Justice Laws, sitting with Mr Justice Cresswell and Mr Justice Latham, adjourned to the same date an application on behalf of General Pinochet for a writ of habeas corpus freeing him from house arrest.

Lawyers for Mr Straw told the High Court in London that the home secretary wanted to reconsider the general's case afresh "with a blank sheet of paper".

[ image: Lobbying Parliament in London over Pinochet]
Lobbying Parliament in London over Pinochet
Lord Justice Laws said: "It seems to me that the interests of justice and the duty of this court are to achieve a situation consistent with the decision of the House of Lords last week in which the secretary of state may reconsider the merits of this matter expeditiously but in an orderly fashion."

Jonathan Sumption QC, appearing for Mr Straw, told the High Court that when, on 9 December last year, the home secretary issued his first authorisation for extradition proceedings, the law was as stated in the first House of Lords judgement.

Now that it had been rescinded and replaced by another ruling "the secretary of state will wish to be able to reconsider the matter afresh in the radically changed situation which now exists", said Mr Sumption.

But first Mr Straw needed clarification that he was entitled in law to revoke his earlier decision, and replace it with a fresh one, without facing further "interminable litigation in a case which has already seen its fair share of that".

Charges after 1988

On Wednesday, the Law Lords decided General Pinochet could be called to account only for offences which occurred after 8 December 1988, when the International Torture Convention became binding on Spain, the UK and Chile.

This cut the original 32 charges of conspiracy to murder, hostage taking, torture and conspiracy to torture to just two charges of conspiracy to torture and one of torture.

On Friday, the Spanish investigating magistrate, Baltasar Garzon, reacted by adding 32 allegations of torture dating from after 1988.

The case remains highly politicised with vocal pro- and anti-Pinochet lobbies expected to demonstrate in London on Monday.

Any decision to cancel the extradition of Senator Pinochet would be greeted with anger by human rights protesters in the Spanish capital, Madrid, while Pinochet supporters would react violently to extradition.

Last week Senator Pinochet, currently under house arrest in Wentworth, Surrey, was visited by Lady Thatcher.

The former prime minister has made it clear she believes he should be allowed to return to Chile in return for help his regime gave to the UK during the 1982 Falklands war.

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