Pinochet Ruling: Straw to decide on court hearing

What Happens Next?
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The Independent Online
YESTERDAY'S judgment by the law lords brought the first round of the legal battle to a close. But the fight by General Augusto Pinochet's lawyers to save him from standing trial on charges of genocide, terrorism and torture is far from over.

Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, has lying on his desk extradition requests from Spain, France, Switzerland and Belgium for the former dictator of Chile.

Next Wednesday General Pinochet is expected at Bow Street magistrates' court in London for a preliminary hearing of the request from Spain, which at present takes precedence.

It is within Mr Straw's powers to stop the proceedings at this stage. He can release General Pinochet, who is ill and 83 years old, on grounds of compassion, or on grounds of wider public interest. Most observers, however, believe that he is unlikely to do so.

If, at the end of a full hearing in the future, the magistrates decide to extradite General Pinochet, his legal team has the right of appeal to a succession of higher courts.

Attempts to extradite the banker Lorrain Osman to face fraud charges in Hong Kong took seven years. There is the alternative of prosecuting General Pinochet in this country. Britain is a signatory to the International Convention on Torture, which allows courts in the UK to try an alleged torturer of whatever nationality for torture committed abroad.

A group of torture victims of the Chilean military junta had asked the Attorney-General, John Morris, to bring proceedings in the UK. He has so far refused, while awaiting clarification of the law of immunity by the House of Lords. But privately, sources in Whitehall say that the Government would far prefer a trial to take place abroad.

The general is at present on police bail, under which he has to stay under police guard in the private Grovelands Hospital, in north London.

His supporters have stated that if he lost his Lords action and thus faced a prolonged enforced stay, they would want him to be moved to a private house. This would involve the bail conditions being changed.

Whatever happens on that count, General Pinochet, who had described Britain as one of his favourite countries to visit, will be here for a while.