Pinochet ruling due next week

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THE LONG-AWAITED ruling by the Law Lords on whether former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet should face extradition to Spain on charges of human rights abuse will be delivered next Wednesday.

The decision by the seven Law Lords comes after weeks of deliberation and in the wake of a protest by the Chilean government over the length of time being taken while General Pinochet remains under house arrest in the UK.

If the Lords rule that, as a former head of state, he is immune from arrest and prosecution he will almost certainly fly back to Santiago at the earliest opportunity, and the legal costs of the proceedings will come from public funds.

A decision that the general is not immune will start the process of extradition, with his lawyers likely to make use of their right of appeal on several stages of the proceedings.

This is the second hearing over the issue. The first one, which ruled that the former dictator is not immune, was set aside after it was revealed that one of the Law Lords, Lord Hoffmann, had links with the human rights pressure group, Amnesty International, which had been represented at the hearing pressing for General Pinochet to face extradition.

Yesterday a spokesman for Amnesty International said: "This is a chance to bring the international law against mass murder and torture off the statute book and into action. Amnesty International hope that the decision will bring ex-General Pinochet a step closer to facing the charges against him."

Former Conservative cabinet minister, Lord Lamont, who has campaigned for Pinochet to be allowed to return home, stated: "I hope that common sense will prevail. Whatever the verdict is, I'm sure the Government should never have allowed this to happen, nor allowed it to proceed. If it goes the wrong way, the Government will live to regret it."