Pinochet appeal leads to reforms

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The Independent Online
By Gavin Cordon

THE LORD Chancellor said yesterday that the legal system was being brought into disrepute by events in the extradition case against General Augusto Pinochet.

Lord Irvine of Lairg said that new procedures had to be adopted to ensure there was no repeat of the setting aside of the law lords' ruling that the former Chilean dictator was not immune, as a previous head of state, from proceedings.

A second panel of law lords ruled that the case would have to be reheard after it emerged that a member of the original panel, Lord Hoffmann, had links to Amnesty International, which had been campaigning for the extradition to Spain of General Pinochet.

"It is of course unprecedented. It is in the highest degree unfortunate because it does have a tendency to bring the legal system into disrepute," Lord Irvine told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"This was, of course, litigation where the eyes of the world were, and are, upon us. But what is necessary to do is not to cry over spilt milk but to see that procedures are put in place to ensure that this does not happen again."

In future, Lord Irvine said, when a panel of law lords was assembled to hear an appeal, they should meet beforehand to ensure that none of them had a connection that could give rise to the appearance of a conflict of interest. If there was, the chairman of the panel should ensure that the law lord concerned did not sit.

Spain is seeking the extradition of the 83-year-old general to stand trial on charges of murder and torture carried out under his regime.

He was arrested in October by officers from Scotland Yard while recuperating from back surgery at a private hospital in London.

At a subsequent court hearing he was remanded on bail, and is currently living in a rented house on the exclusive Wentworth Estate at Virginia Water, Surrey.