Court Orders New Pinochet Hearings
By The Associated Press
LONDON (AP) --
In an unprecedented move, Britain's highest court on Thursday set aside
ruling against Gen. Augusto Pinochet because a judge failed to disclose his ties to Amnesty
The decision rattled the judiciary and stalled Spain's efforts to extradite the former Chilean dictator.
the legal debacle in the House of Lords, the head of Britain's judiciary
said top judges
must be required to declare any possible conflicts and withdraw from cases where bias might be
``We must make
every effort to ensure that such a state of affairs could not occur again,''
Lord Derry Irvine, the Lord Chancellor.
ruling by a five-judge tribunal means that a new House of Lords panel will
Pinochet's claim that, under British law, his status as a former foreign head of state gives him
immunity from arrest on charges of murder and torture during his 1970-1993 rule.
was arrested Oct. 16 while recuperating from back surgery, cannot leave
and remains under police guard at a rented mansion 20 miles west of London.
renewed calls for the 83-year-old general to be sent home, suggesting he
tried there -- even though Pinochet has immunity from prosecution in Chile as a senator for life and
under laws he instigated while in office.
Citing the maxim
that justice must be done and also be seen to be done, Pinochet's lawyers
complained that Lord Justice Leonard Hoffmann should not have been allowed to sit in judgment of
Pinochet because he is the director of Amnesty International's fundraising arm.
with the majority in the Lords' 3-2 ruling on Nov. 25 holding that Pinochet
In addition to
his role with the human rights group, the judge's wife has worked at Amnesty's
headquarters since 1977.
Amnesty has played
a key role in a long campaign to have Pinochet charged with gross abuses
human rights and also made special representations in the first hearing before Hoffmann and the other
law lords. But the group insists that Hoffmann and his wife played no role in its efforts to try
Thursday, however, Lord Justice Nicolas Browne-Wilkinson noted that
Hoffmann's ties to Amnesty ``had not been disclosed to the parties'' and said Hoffmann should have
``I am satisfied that the earlier decision of this house cannot stand and must be set aside,'' he said.
was out of the country and had no comment, his office said. The judge and
are native-born South Africans who opposed apartheid and settled in Britain in the 1960s.
Although he has
had a highly successful legal career, the ruling by his fellow law lords
It also raised
speculation that the political views and interests of judges -- who are
appointed by the
head of the judiciary -- will be more closely scrutinized in future.
In New York,
Human Rights Watch said it was ironic that ``a dictator whose clandestine
tribunals ordered the summary execution of hundreds of political opponents is now taking advantage
of the full measure of British rule of law.''
Amnesty chairman Andy McEntee noted that ``Augusto Pinochet has very inventive lawyers.''
``They will make this a long case, one that is hard for him to lose,'' McEntee said.
An official Chilean
report says about 3,000 people were murdered or disappeared at the hands
his secret police after Pinochet overthrew an elected Marxist.
Chilean President Eduardo Frei said Pinochet should ``be allowed to return
to Chile and
let us Chileans decide on our affairs.''
``This is starting
to look like a legal or judicial soap opera,'' Chilean House Speaker Gutenberg
in the Lords, probably Jan. 18, means extradition proceedings due to start
magistrate's court that day will likely be on hold. A British Cabinet minister ruled Dec. 9 that
extradition proceedings could start.