Lancaster Professor to lift the lid on the Pinochet Prosecution
Twelve years after British Law Lords decided that Chile’s former dictator and head of state General Augusto Pinochet was not immune from prosecution for torture and other serious human rights crimes, an expert on the case plans to reveal the untold inside story of what he describes as one of the most embarrassing episodes in legal history.
In November 1998 Britain’s highest court, the judicial committee of the House of Lords (the Law Lords), reached the epoch-making decision to reject Pinochet’s claim of immunity as a former head of state. They voted three to two that he could be extradited to Spain to be tried for torture and other grave human rights abuses.
But Pinochet’s legal team questioned the independence of one of the five Law Lords, Lord Hoffmann, on the grounds that he had close links with Amnesty International, a party to the case, and, for the first time in legal history, the Law Lords set aside their original decision.
When the case was reheard in 1999 – under the glare of intense media and political attention - the Law Lords upheld the extradition, but reduced the number of cases on which Pinochet could be tried from hundreds to three.
This was the most humiliating moment in the history of the Law Lords, and of Amnesty International. Until now, however, the details of what actually happened, and who was responsible, have never been fully revealed.
Professor David Sugarman, Director of the Centre for Law and Society, Lancaster University, has during the last 12 years pieced together what actually happened, why and by whom. He has interviewed almost all the key players involved in the Pinochet prosecution including judges, lawyers, politicians and activists.
On Thursday, November 25, 6pm, he will expose hitherto unrevealed details about what really happened during those unprecedented events.
The Lecture, ‘The Law Lords, Amnesty International and the Pinochet Case: What Happened and Why?’ will be delivered at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, University of London.
Professor Sugarman will discuss
- Where responsibility lay for the bungling that forced the Law Lords to cancel out the initial verdict. Was it the responsibility of Lord Hoffmann, the acting senior Law Lord (Lord Slynn), the administrators, the lawyers, Amnesty International or the politicians?
- The unprecedented conflicts, tensions and strains within, and between, the Law Lords, Amnesty International and the legal profession.
- The interplay between law, politics and professional ambition that almost threatened to derail the case.
- The seismic impact of the debacle on the highest court in the UK, and the establishment of a new UK Supreme Court in 2009.
- The significant impact on Amnesty International, the legal profession, and the development of human rights, at home and abroad.
Professor Sugarman said: “It has taken 12 years of meticulous work to build up a clear picture of exactly what happened during that extraordinary moment in British legal history. The Law Lords’ cancellation of the initial verdict was humiliating. It created the impression that Britain’s top court was incompetent and amateurish, and generally not fit for purpose. It reflected badly on Amnesty International, and raised questions about the conduct and practices of the legal profession. I am as sure as I can possibly be that I know exactly what happened and that the details will prove controversial.”
The public lecture is chaired by The Rt. Hon. Lord Justice Sedley and is organised by the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, University of London and the Centre for Law and Society, Lancaster University, in association with Britain’s foremost research centres in international law, contemporary British history and Latin American studies:
- The British Institute of International and Comparative Law, London;
- The Centre for Contemporary British History at King’s College London; and
- The Institute for the Study of the Americas, University of London.