Pinochet lawyers vetoed law lord

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LORD WOOLF, Master of the Rolls, will not be sitting on the rehearing of the Pinochet case after objections from the former Chilean dictator's lawyers, The Independent can reveal.

In an unprecedented and highly controversial move, the House of Lords has effectively given General Augusto Pinochet's lawyers the power of vetting the new panel of judges who will hear the case from next Monday.

Lord Woolf is the second most senior jurist in England and Wales after the Lord Chief Justice, and would have been the most liberal of the seven judges who will rule whether General Pinochet has immunity from prosecution on charges of human rights abuse.

A decision by the previous panel that General Pinochet does not have immunity from prosecution was overturned by fellow law lords because of the failure by Lord Hoffmann to declare his links with Amnesty International, the human rights group that had lobbied for the former dictator to be charged.

Subsequently the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine of Lairg, wrote to Lord Browne-Wilkinson, the senior law lord, asking for the Lords to be more vigilant about not giving the appearance of bias.

The judicial office of the House of Lords had written to General Pinochet's solicitors, Kingsley Napley, mentioning Lord Woolf as a candidate for the new hearing. Lord Woolf stepped down from hosting a fund-raising dinner for Amnesty on 26 January, after being told he may be on the panel.

His name had been on a letter sent to law firms asking for donations for a building for Amnesty. Other signatories were Lord Irvine, the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Bingham of Cornhill, and Lord Hoffmann. Kingsley Napley also received the letter and promised to donate pounds 1,000.