Leading Article: Now Mr Straw must extradite this tyrant

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THE LAW Lords' decision that General Pinochet cannot claim blanket "sovereign immunity" is a limited one, but still a great relief after all the rumours of splits and second thoughts. Hurdles still remain in the way of the General's final extradition to Spain. The Spanish judge now has to make the substantive case; Pinochet's lawyers will probably launch a judicial review of the referral to British courts. Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, must finally agree to the extradition going ahead. But the judges' decision means that extradition is closer than ever.

Mindful of the earlier debacle over Lord Hoffman's connections with Amnesty International, the Law Lords have taken painstaking care over this decision. The inevitable result is that their ruling hardly constitutes a clarion call for international law and for the culpability of dictators.

The judges have taken the cautious, rather than the expansive, approach to the law. Perhaps understandably, they did not wish to drag the British courts further into political controversy. But their caution now lands responsibility right back in the Home Secretary's lap. Mr Straw should remember the principle at stake: no one is immune before the courts. The whole weight of international opinion and law are moving in this direction, most notably at the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

If Mr Straw does find some pretext on which to release Pinochet, the present generation of tyrants - including Slobodan Milosevic - will rub their hands with glee, realising that Western governments do not have the strength of will to back up legal decisions with political action. That would undermine fragile hopes for an international order governed by law, rather than by the whims of despots. Yesterday the judges took one step towards justice. When called upon, the Home Secretary must complete the journey.