Pinochet lawyers knew of lord's Amnesty link

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Solicitors acting for General Pinochet received material 10 months ago that one of the law lords who ruled against the former dictator was linked to Amnesty International, it was claimed last night.

Solicitors acting for General Pinochet received material 10 months ago that one of the law lords who ruled against the former dictator was linked to Amnesty International, it was claimed last night.

Today General Pinochet's counsel, instructed by the firm of solicitors Kingsley Napley, starts his appeal to the House of Lords to overturn the law lords' decision on the grounds of Lord Hoffmann's links to the human rights group. They are expected to say that if they had known of these links they would have asked Lord Hoffmann to stand down from the panel of five law lords considering their client's case for immunity from prosecution.

Amnesty International was represented in the Lords hearing as interveners, and argued against the general benefiting from immunity. Last night the organisation was given permission by the House of Lords to make representations at today's hearing.

The Independent has learnt that General Pinochet's petition is expected to say that he and his legal team were only informed that Lord Hoffmann is the chairman and director of Amnesty International Charity Limited on 8 December.

It can be revealed, however, that a letter openly stating Lord Hoffmann's role as chairman of Amnesty International Charity was sent to law firms, including Kingsley Napley, in an appeal for a building for Amnesty International in February this year.

In a prompt response Kingsley Napley pledged a donation of pounds 1,000 to the building fund later the same month after a discussion among partners.

The letter appealing for funds stated: "... Lord Hoffmann is chairman of Amnesty's International Charity and of this appeal. At his suggestion, we give it our warm endorsement". It was signed by, among others, the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine of Lairg; the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Bingham of Cornhill; and Lord Woolf, Master of the Rolls. Lord Bingham had ruled in favour of General Pinochet receiving immunity as a former head of state in the High Court before the case moved to the Lords.

As well as Lord Hoffmann's role with the Amnesty charity his wife, Gillian, is employed as an administrative assistant with Amnesty International.

The human rights group maintains that the charity is purely a fund-raising body, and played no part in Amnesty's intervention in the Pinochet case. It also denied that Lord Hoffmann's wife was in any way involved in decisions on the matter.

General Pinochet's lawyers are expected to say today that Lord Hoffmann should have declared his connections with Amnesty and should not have sat on the case.

They are not accusing him of conscious bias against their client. But they are expected to refer to leading legal authorities who take into account "the insidious nature" of bias and how, in such circumstances, one might believe he was acting in good faith while being unconsciously affected by bias.

One of the authorities they call on is Lord Goff of Chieveley, who is sitting at today's hearing with Lord Browne- Wilkinson, Lord Hutton, Lord Hope of Criaghead and Lord Nolan.

Kingsley Napley has acknowledged that it has made a donation to Amnesty International.