Law Lords Allow Appeal for Pinochet Extradition: Unprecedented Ruling Overturns Decision That Refused Former Chilean Dictator Immunity from Prosecution
Sengupta, Kim, The Independent (London, England)
FIVE LAW lords took the unprecedented step yesterday of overturning an earlier panel's decision that refused the former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet immunity from prosecution.
The unanimous ruling by the five law lords was greeted with delight by supporters of the general, offering the prospect that he may yet avoid extradition to Spain to face charges of torture, kidnapping and conspiracy to murder.
Lawyers for General Pinochet had successfully argued that the original ruling was flawed because Lord Hoffmann, one of the judges on the panel, had failed to disclose his relationship with Amnesty International. The human rights group had been present as interveners during the hearing and argued that the general should not be protected by immunity. The House of Lords is supposed to be the court of last resort and its ruling the final word on any case, although it is open to challenge in the European courts. The appeal by General Pinochet's lawyers against the law lords' ruling that he was not immune to prosecution set a precedent of challenging their decisions. After yesterday's ruling it was revealed that the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine of Lairg, had written to the senior law lord, Lord Browne- Wilkinson, demanding new measures to prevent the situation recurring. He wrote: "My request to you is that you ... ensure that at any time any committee is being composed to hear an appeal that its proposed members consider together whether any of their number might appear to be subject to a conflict of interest, and in order to ensure impartiality, and the appearance of impartiality... require any law lord to disclose any such circumstances to the parties, and not sit if any party objects and the committee so determines." Lord Hoffmann was yesterday out of the country. One Tory MP, Gerald Howarth, said that he must consider his future. "It is a quite remarkable twist of events and must make Lord Hoffmann question his position as a law lord," he said. According to legal experts Lord Hoffmann's resignation would only become a strong possibility if the law lords said in their reasoning behind yesterday's decision - due to be published in January - that he had actually demonstrated bias in his decision. …