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Pinochet judge under pressure


Pinochet judge under pressure

Law Lords have attacked their colleague Lord Hoffmann who failed to declare links with a human rights group before ruling in a key hearing on General Augusto Pinochet.

In their written judgement, they give their detailed reasoning for overturning a ruling by a previous panel of Law Lords which had denied the former Chilean dictator freedom from prosecution.

The Law Lords said the links between Lord Hoffmann - who sat on the original panel that ruled to allow General Pinochet's extradition in November - and the human rights group Amnesty International were too close to allow the verdict to stand.

One of the lords who ruled in the appeal case, Lord Hope, said: "In view of his links with Amnesty International as the chairman and a director of Amnesty International Charity Limited he could not be seen to be impartial.

"There has been no suggestion that he was actually biased. He had no financial or pecuniary interest in the outcome.

"But his relationship with Amnesty International was such that he was, in effect, acting as a judge in his own cause."

The Law Lords took an unprecedented decision to reject a ruling made by Lord Hoffmann and four colleagues in November that extradition proceedings against the general could begin.

Another appeal judge, Lord Hutton, said: "I consider that the links ... between Lord Hoffman and Amnesty International, which had campaigned strongly against General Pinochet and which intervened in the earlier hearing to support the case that he should be extradited to face trial for his alleged crimes, were so strong that public confidence in the integrity of the administration of justice would be shaken if his decision were allowed to stand."

Lord Browne-Wilkinson, who led the appeal hearing, stressed Lord Hoffmann was not guilty of any bias but said the appearance of absolute impartiality had to be maintained.

They "reluctantly" agreed with General Pinochet's legal team who argued that Lord Hoffmann's links to Amnesty had given rise to "a real danger of bias" in the hearing.

Cast deciding vote

Lord Hoffmann cast the deciding vote in the original Law Lords ruling, which was passed by a 3-2 majority.

After the ruling overturning Lord Hoffmann's judgement the Law Lords will have to hear the case on the general's immunity from the law again.

His legal team argue that as a former head of state he should not be forced to stand trial for human rights crimes committed during his dictatorship.

General Pinochet has been held under arrest in then UK since October at the request of the Spanish authorities who are hoping to try the general for mass murder and torture.

He was head of the military regime which overthrew the elected socialist government of Salvador Allende in 1973.

During his 17 years of military rule it is estimated that more than 3,000 of the general's political opponents were murdered in his name.

'Right first time'

Human Rights Watch say the law lords should stick by their original decision that the 83-year-old general enjoys no protection from allegations of human rights crimes.

Spokesman Reed Brody said: "The House of Lords got it right the first time."

He added: "It's too late now to turn the clock back. Fifty years of international law are backing up the first decision."

Source: BBC, 15 January 1999



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