Taxpayer foots pounds 4m Pinochet legal bill

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The Independent Online
THE BRITISH taxpayer is so far liable for more than pounds 4m in legal expenses in the Pinochet extradition case, it was estimated after a Law Lords ruling yesterday.

Issuing a costs order on four court hearings, the House of Lords directed that in two hearings the costs of the former Chilean dictator should be paid from public funds. In all four hearings the Crown Prosecution Service was ordered to pay its costs from public funds. Britain cannot ask Spain - the country requesting the extradition - to pay for the service's lawyers because, under the European Convention on Extradition, each country meets its own costs.

The four court appearances represent most of the legal fees and court expenses incurred by both sides since General Pinochet, 83, was arrested last year. No exact figures were given by the Law Lords yesterday, but the overall bill, which includes short appearances at the magistrates' court and the High Court which are not included in the Lords order, is estimated to be almost pounds 6m. It could exceed pounds 12m by the time a decision on his extradition is reached.

In December last year the general's legal expenses were running at pounds 12,000 a day. Senior counsel are understood to have averaged pounds 3,000 a day, while junior members of his five-strong team were billing up to pounds 900 for daily preparation. Fees for his ten solicitors exceeded pounds 4,500 a day.

Details of his costs obtained by The Independent show that Clare Montgomery QC wascharging pounds 350 an hour, or pounds 2,306 per day. It is believed that his second QC, Clive Nicholls, received pounds 500 an hour. Each of the general's three House of Lords appearances, and the one at the High Court, will have required weeks of legal preparation by both teams.

The Crown Prosecution Service may have felt obliged to match lawyer with lawyer. Four barristers instructed by the service have been working full-time on the case.

The former Conservative chancellor, Lord Lamont, a vociferous critic of General Pinochet's detention, said that the costs order amounted to a "stinging rebuke" to the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, who authorised the extradition proceedings.

"This expensive political farce should have been killed off long ago. Contrary to government fiction, the responsibility is not the courts' but the Home Secretary's," he said.

Professor Fernando Barros, of the pro-Pinochet Chilean Reconciliation Movement, described the costs order as: "a Solomonic and reasonable decision". Andy McEntee, chairman of the board of Amnesty International, said: "Of course criminal justice does have a cost. Everybody is entitled to apply for their court costs. But you can't put a cost to people who have been tortured or disappeared."

How The Costs Break Down

The two hearings in which the taxpayer will have to pay Pinochet's legal fees

SIX-DAY hearing starting on 25 November on the original appeal to the House of Lords. Estimated preparation time: three weeks per barrister, billing for 10-hour days. Clive Nicholls' bill is expected to be more than pounds 100,000, while Clare Montgomery's will run to pounds 70,000. Each of the three junior barristers is expected to charge half of Nicholls' rate, making a total of pounds 150,000. The estimated costs for Kingsley Napley solicitors is more than pounds 500,000. Total bill: pounds 820,000.

NOVEMBER 25 ruling was set aside at a three-day hearing beginning 17 December after it was disclosed that Lord Hoffman (left) had links with Amnesty International, a party to the extradition. This hearing only dealt with conflict of interest but would have needed two weeks' preparation for each barrister. Nicholls is expected to charge pounds 65,000, Montgomery pounds 45,000. Two juniors would be required, at pounds 65,000 for both. Solicitors' fees would be some pounds 300,000. Total bill: pounds 475,000.