Hoffmann strongly criticised by law lords

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The Independent Online
LORD HOFFMANN faced strong criticism yesterday from his fellow Law Lords because of his failure to declare his links with Amnesty International while ruling that former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet should face prosecution.

Giving their detailed reasons why the decision was quashed, one of the judges, Lord Hope of Craighead, stated that "Lord Hoffmann's relationship with Amnesty International was such that he was, in effect, acting as a judge in his own cause".

Another, Lord Browne-Wilkinson, the senior Law Lord, said:"It is of fundamental importance that justice should not only be done but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done."

He added that the ruling did not mean judges should always be disqualified from sitting in cases involving charities in whose work they were involved. But if they were taking an active role as trustee or a director, they should either disqualify themselves or disclose the links to the litigating parties.

Another Law Lord, Lord Hutton, said: "Public confidence in the integrity of the administration of justice would be shaken if his decision were allowed to stand."

Amnesty International had lobbied for General Pinochet to face human rights abuse charges and appeared as interveners in the Lords hearing in which Lord Hoffmann's vote turned out to be decisive in ruling the former dictator was not immune from prosecution.

It later emerged that Lord Hoffmann was a director of Amnesty's fund raising arm, Amnesty International Charity Limited, and his wife Gillian worked for Amnesty as an administrative assistant. At a fresh hearing a new panel of judges took the unprecedented step of setting aside the original ruling.

While stressing that there was no allegation that Lord Hoffmann was actually guilty of bias, the five Law Lords stressed he should have been disqualified from sitting in the case because of the relationship between Amnesty International Charity Ltd and Amnesty International.

After the overturning of the original decision, the Lord Chancellor wrote to Lord Browne-Wilkinson stressing that in future, judges must disclose any links with parties involved in a court case.

Lord Hoffmann was abroad at the time but he has since returned and held a meeting with fellow Law Lords to discuss the new ground rules. The meeting was said to have been amicable and no apology was demanded from or offered by Lord Hoffmann.

A new panel of seven Law Lords will sit on the re-hearing of the Pinochet case on Monday. Lord Woolf, Master of the Rolls, was proposed as one of the new judges but had to withdraw after objections from General Pinochet's lawyers over his links with Amnesty International's fund raising activities.