Leading Article: The important principle is justice, not revenge

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The Independent Culture
HISTORY HAS repeated itself in the House of Lords: first as tragedy (for General Pinochet); second as farce (for everyone concerned). The unanimous decision by the senior judges in the land to nullify last month's verdict of their colleagues in the same court that Augusto Pinochet can be extradited for alleged human rights crimes committed while the head of state of Chile, seems, on the face of it, to have undermined a promising development of the law. And the fault - for fault it certainly was (on this we have no disagreement with yesterday's judgment) - was with the liberals' own champion, Lord Hoffmann. His overweening self-confidence in his own righteousness must have blinded him to how others would see his connections and his wife's connections with Amnesty International, an organisation that was campaigning (and appearing as a witness before him) to have Pinochet extradited to face trial in Spain.

Still, a second look at the results of yesterday's decision might yet give cause for hope. After all, the principle at stake in these proceedings is not revenge but justice. The core issue is that international law should be so developed that tyrannical leaders anywhere in the world have good reason to fear that they will be held personally responsible for crimes against humanity carried out by their henchmen. What was so cheering about last month's verdict was that this vital principle, originally proclaimed at the Nuremberg Trials, was being carried forward in our own times.

Now, the legal arguments will be heard again by a court that has shown it is more concerned to do justice - and to be seen to do justice - than it is to reach any particular result regarding the defendant before it. If a new panel of Law Lords comes to the same verdict as the previous panel, the important precedent that seemed to have been established last month will have been entrenched all the deeper.