The lords, convened to consider once again whether the general has immunity from arrest and extradition to Spain, were told his regime used systematic rape and sodomy to terrify Chilean opponents. The case reopened yesterday in an unprecedented move after a panel of law lords overturned an earlier ruling that General Pinochet did not enjoy immunity as a former head of state.
The original ruling was overturned because Lord Hoffman, one of those who made the ruling, had links to Amnesty International, which had been campaigning in favour of General Pinochet's extradition.
Alun Jones QC, for the Spanish government, said the objective of the former dictator's alleged crimes was not simply to extract information from the victims but to terrify other potential opponents of the regime via the accounts of those who were released to "spread word of the horrors of the tortures which might be inflicted".
Mr Jones said: "On occasions dogs were used in a sexual way against victims."
Others were beaten to the point of death and then revived by hooded doctors. A journalist was systematically tortured over a 27-month period of detention.
Mr Jones told the court that crimes were plotted and completed even before the coup of 11 September 1973, when General Pinochet seized power.
As the matter was being heard in the House of Lords, anti-Pinochet demonstrators chanted outside the Commons and General Pinochet's supporters rallied around the former dictator.
Lord Lamont, the former Tory chancellor, accused ministers of an act of "treachery" for allowing General Pinochet to be arrested after paying for him to use the VIP suite at Heathrow on his arrival.
Baltasar Garzon, the Spanish judge who requested General Pinochet's extradition, was in the Lords committee room to hear the opening of the case. The case is expected to continue into next week.
The Spanish warrant for General Pinochet's arrest had expired, said Mr Jones. But, he added: "Since the appeal was heard in November, it is our submission that the context of this case has changed completely. There is now an authority to proceed from the Home Secretary [Jack Straw]."
Mr Jones said that the general's liability for the alleged offences - including the deaths of 40 Spanish people - was a personal one; it was not that of the state of which he was formerly head.
He began to describe how in August 1973, for example, a number of people were tortured at a naval base in order to keep secret the coup plan.
But the law lords told him that they were "baffled" by some of the legal arguments put forward by the Spanish government.
Lord Browne-Wilkinson, the chairman of the law lords panel, warned Mr Jones that the panel was not concerned with policy matters.
He told Mr Jones to "try to keep this stuff out" after the QC poured scorn on Baroness Thatcher's argument that General Pinochet should be allowed to return home because he helped save British lives in the Falklands conflict.
Mr Jones was told at one point during the hearing that he was sustaining "heavy gunfire" from the seven law lords and should "regroup" before continuing the appeal for General Pinochet to be extradited from Britain. Mr Jones urged the law lords not to consider any effects the appeal would have on Chile, following warnings that it could destablise democracy in the country.
The seven law lords hearing the case are: Lord Browne-Wilkinson, 68; Lord Goff of Chieveley, 72; Lord Hope of Craighead, 60; Lord Saville of Newdigate, 62; Lord Hutton, 67; Lord Phillips, 60, and Lord Millett, 66.
The Men Sitting in Judgment
Aged 68. Recently succeeded Lord Goff as the senior law lord. Called to the Bar in 1953. Took silk in 1972 and became a High Court judge in 1977. Became an Appeal Court judge in 1991. A Chancery specialist who has given leading judgments in other areas including family law. A keen gardener. Educated at Magdalen College, Oxford. Regarded as humane, liberal and charming.
Lord Goff of Chieveley
Aged 72. Recently stood down as senior law lord. He became a High Court judge in 1975; promoted to the Court of Appeal in 1982. Became a law lord in 1986. Educated at Eton College and New College, Oxford. Practised at the commercial Bar after starting his legal career as an academic at Oxford University. Expert in legal education. Reputation for intelligence and moderation.
Lord Hope of Craighead
Aged 60. Became youngest law lord when he was appointed in 1996. After being admitted as an advocate in 1965 he rose quickly to the top of the Scottish judiciary. Became Lord Justice-General and Lord President of the Court of Session in 1989. Educated at Edinburgh Academy, Rugby School, and St John's College, Cambridge. Known for quiet style. Middle-of-the- road.
Aged 67. Became a law lord in 1997 after nearly a decade as Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland. Called to the Northern Ireland Bar in 1954; took silk in 1970. Called to the English bar in 1972. Senior Crown Counsel in Northern Ireland from 1973 to 1979 when he was made Judge of the High Court of Justice for Northern Ireland. Considered to be a conservative.
Lord Saville of Newdigate
Aged 62. Appointed a law lord in 1997. Chairman of the new Bloody Sunday inquiry. Dubbed the "Lord of Cool", his interests cited in Who's Who include flying and sailing. He is also known for playing squash in his lunch hour. Former head of the Commercial Court. Took silk in 1975. Educated at Rye Grammar School and Brasenose College, Oxford. Middle-of-the-road.
Aged 66. Law lord since last year. The highest ranking Freemason in the judiciary. Called to the Bar in 1955. Junior counsel to the trade department from 1967-73. Became a High Court judge in 1986; promoted to the Court of Appeal in 1994. Former president of the West London Synagogue of British Jews. Educated at Harrow and at Trinity Hall, Cambridge. Popular, middle-of-the-road.
Aged 60. Became a law lord this month. Pinochet case is his first as a judge in the House of Lords. Commercial and admiralty specialist highly praised for his handling of the Guinness and Maxwell trials. Currently conducting the BSE inquiry. Became Court of Appeal judge in 1995. Educated at King's College, Cambridge. Regarded as the most liberal of the seven law lords.Reuse content