Leading Article: A strange procedure - but justice was done

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The Independent Culture
WE ARE, as Amnesty International declared yesterday, "one major step closer to justice", with the Home Secretary's decision to allow extradition proceedings against General Pinochet to go ahead. One more "major step" closer to justice than is strictly necessary, in fact.

Jack Straw is, rightly, playing the part of Desk Sergeant Stickler to the hilt. This is one case that has to be done by the book, even if it does require Mr Straw to assert with a straight face that he is "satisfied that he took this decision with an open mind" and "has considered the matter entirely afresh". Just as American juries are told to disregard inadmissible evidence, Mr Straw told himself to ignore the fact that he had already given the go-ahead for extradition after the first, flawed ruling by the Law Lords.

All of which neatly illustrates the absurdity of ministers acting in a "quasi-judicial capacity". In this case in particular, there is nothing "quasi" about it. Extradition is an entirely judicial business, and the idea that politicians should be involved as a matter of procedure is long out of date.

That, however, is for another day. For now, it is enough that the new international law to bring torturers to justice is being followed in a manner that is safe from legal challenge. What matters is that if Mr Straw had been acting purely as a politician, he would have reached the same judgement. It is right that Pinochet should go to Spain to face trial, and the Conservatives who have popped up to say that the Chileans should deal with him are wrong.

The idea that a trial in Chile would help the process of national reconciliation on which the country is embarked in its post-Pinochet phase is unconvincing. Far better for him to be tried in Spain; then the pro-Pinochet half of Chile can blame the Spanish, while the anti-Pinochet half can give thanks that the old tyrant has finally been brought to book.

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