Pinochet cleared to challenge Straw ruling

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GENERAL AUGUSTO Pinochet was yesterday given the go-ahead in the High Court for a legal challenge to the Home Secretary's decision to authorise extradition proceedings against him on charges of human rights abuse.

But the application for a judicial review was adjourned to allow Jack Straw to consider the issue, in the light of the law lords' ruling on the case last week, and new evidence against the former Chilean dictator sent from Spain.

The hearing will restart on the first available court date after 15 April, by which time Mr Straw will have reached his decision. Another application on behalf of the 83-year-old general, for habeas corpus, was also postponed until the same day by Lord Justice Laws, sitting with Mr Justice Cresswell and Mr Justice Latham.

Lord Justice Laws said: "It seems to me that the interests of justice and the duty of this court are to achieve a situation consistent with the decision of the House of Lords last week in which the Secretary of State may reconsider the merits of this matter expeditiously but in an orderly fashion."

Clive Nicholls QC, appearing for General Pinochet, had argued that the application for habeas corpus should not be delayed as the first authority to proceed issued by Mr Straw plainly could not stand.

Any delay until after the Home Secretary had reconsidered the case would deprive the general of his right "to be set at liberty and returned to Chile".

But the judges rejected his argument after being told the Home Secretary wanted time to reconsider the case afresh "with a blank sheet of paper".

Last Wednesday, the law lords ruled that while General Pinochet did not have blanket sovereign immunity he was nevertheless immune from extradition for crimes allegedly committed up to 8 December 1988, when the international Torture Convention became binding on Spain, the UK and Chile.

This was followed, however, by the Spanish authorities issuing 33 more post-1988 charges of torture and murder against the general.