Letter: Seen to be done

Sir: In giving his reasons for the setting-aside by the Law Lords of the original ruling to deny General Pinochet state immunity, Lord Browne- Wilkinson has restated the fundamental principle that justice "should not only be done but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done".

You report the Lord Chancellor as having emphasised that, in future, judges must disclose links with parties involved in a court case.

Judges do, normally, declare links of which they are aware. I recall a case in 1978 before Mr Justice Mustill, later himself a distinguished law lord. He had just been appointed as a judge and it was his first case. I was appearing for the defendants, an airline company being sued for commission claimed in respect of the sale of two second-hand aircraft. My opponent had been opening his case for only a few minutes when Mr Justice Mustill interrupted to say that he thought he should mention that while at the Bar he had appeared once for a man called Martin who was an aircraft broker. At this the plaintiff, to the surprise of all in court, jumped to his feet and said, "Yes, it was you, my Lord."

The judge added that he remembered little about the case except that they went to the Court of Appeal and lost. However, what mattered was that my clients were given the opportunity to ask for a different judge, an opportunity denied to General Pinochet, whether or not his legal team were or should have been aware of Lord Hoffmann's connection with Amnesty. In my case we decided to continue with Mr Justice Mustill and eventually won.

Unless and until he chooses to tell us, the reason for Lord Hoffmann's non-disclosure in the Pinochet case can only be guessed at. What is surely significant, though, is that, at least so far as the House of Lords is concerned, his error was unprecedented. Regrettable and expensive though the incident has been the fact that the House of Lords ordered a rehearing must serve to restore confidence in our highest appeal court.


Sudbury, Suffolk