Supporters of the 82-year-old former dictator of Chile claimed that this was a significant step in his attempt to win freedom, and underlined an important issue of principle. But in practical terms, little has changed for the general. Bail conditions stipulated that he remains at the private psychiatric Grovelands Priory Hospital in Southgate, north London, and that he remains under police guard.
The ruling will mean that there will be fewer restrictions on the general, and he will have more access to visitors.
In another development,torture victims of General Pino- chet's regime won the right to be legally represented in a hearing before the House of Lords next week. The Crown Prosecution Service is appealing to the Lords over a High Court ruling that General Pinochet was immune from prosecution as a former head of state. The victims' barrister, Ian Brownlie QC, an international law expert, will argue General Pinochet cannot claim immunity because under international law, there is no immunity for crimes against humanity.
Geoffrey Bindman, solicitor for the victims, said it was extremely rare for "intervention" to be allowed before the House of Lords.
Yesterday's bail application on behalf of General Pinochet was not opposed by the CPS. James Lewis, representing the Metropolitan Police, the Kingdom of Spain and the CPS, said: "If there is any variation [on the bail conditions] we shall have a different perspective on the matter."
Granting bail, Mr Justice Richards said: "The concern must be to hold the position pending an appeal to the House of Lords, but on terms that impose on the applicant only such restrictions as are properly necessary. In the light of what has been said... it seems to me that the granting of bail on the terms proposed is appropriate to meet the relevant objective. Accordingly, I will grant bail on two conditions - one, that the applicant resides at all times within the confines of the buildings of Grovelands Priory Hospital, Southgate, and secondly, that he is guarded by police at all times."
General Pinochet did not attend yesterday's hearing.
His supporters said that his condition was stable and he would be happy to hear bail had been granted.
In Spain yesterday, the National Court ruled that the examining magistrate seeking the former dictator's extradition does have the right to try him. The ruling by the court in Madrid that Judge Baltasar Garzon does have jurisdiction over the alleged crimes committed by General Pinochet has come as a serious blow to the former dictator and his supporters, they privately admit. If the court had blocked Judge Garzon's inquiries and extradition request it would have been seen as a landmark victory by the former dictator.