R v Bow Street Metropolitan Stipendiary Magistrate, ex parte Pinochet Ugarte (No 2)

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
CourtHouse of Lords
Judgment Date15 January 1999
Judgment citation (vLex)[1999] UKHL J0115-1

[1999] UKHL J0115-1


Lord Browne-Wilkinson

Lord Goff of Chieveley

Lord Nolan

Lord Hope of Craighead

Lord Hutton

In RE Pinochet

My Lords,




This petition has been brought by Senator Pinochet to set aside an order made by your Lordships on 25 November 1998. It is said that the links between one of the members of the Appellate Committee who heard the appeal, Lord Hoffmann, and Amnesty International("AI") were such as to give the appearance that he might have been biased against Senator Pinochet. On 17 December 1998 your Lordships set aside the order of 25 November 1998 for reasons to be given later. These are the reasons that led me to that conclusion.


Background facts


Senator Pinochet was the Head of State of Chile from 11 September 1973 until 11 March 1990. It is alleged that during that period there took place in Chile various crimes against humanity (torture, hostage taking and murder) for which he was knowingly responsible.


In October 1998 Senator Pinochet was in this country receiving medical treatment. In October and November 1998 the judicial authorities in Spain issued international warrants for his arrest to enable his extradition to Spain to face trial for those alleged offences. The Spanish Supreme Court has held that the courts of Spain have jurisdiction to try him. Pursuant to those international warrants, on 16 and 23 October 1998 Metropolitan Stipendiary Magistrates issued two provisional warrants for his arrest under section 8(1)(b) of the Extradition Act 1989. Senator Pinochet was arrested. He immediately applied to the Queen's Bench Divisional Court to quash the warrants. The warrant of 16 October was quashed and nothing further turns on that warrant. The second warrant of 23 October 1998 was quashed by an order of the Divisional Court of the Queen's Bench Division (Lord Bingham of Cornhill C.J., Collins and Richards JJ.) However, the quashing of the second warrant was stayed to enable an appeal to be taken to your Lordships' House on the question certified by the Divisional Court as to "the proper interpretation and scope of the immunity enjoyed by a former Head of State from arrest and extradition proceedings in the United Kingdom in respect of acts committed while he was Head of State."


As that question indicates, the principle point at issue in the main proceedings in both the Divisional Court and this House was as to the immunity, if any, enjoyed by Senator Pinochet as a past Head of State in respect of the crimes against humanity for which his extradition was sought. The Crown Prosecution Service (which is conducting the proceedings on behalf of the Spanish Government) while accepting that a foreign Head of State would, during his tenure of office, be immune from arrest or trial in respect of the matters alleged, contends that once he ceased to be Head of State his immunity for crimes against humanity also ceased and he can be arrested and prosecuted for such crimes committed during the period he was Head of State. On the other side, Senator Pinochet contends that his immunity in respect of acts done whilst he was Head of State persists even after he has ceased to be Head of State. The position therefore is that if the view of the CPS (on behalf of the Spanish Government) prevails, it was lawful to arrest Senator Pinochet in October and (subject to any other valid objections and the completion of the extradition process) it will be lawful for the Secretary of State in his discretion to extradite Senator Pinochet to Spain to stand trial for the alleged crimes. If, on the other hand, the contentions of Senator Pinochet are correct, he has at all times been and still is immune from arrest in this country for the alleged crimes. He could never be extradited for those crimes to Spain or any other country. He would have to be immediately released and allowed to return to Chile as he wishes to do.


The court proceedings.


The Divisional Court having unanimously quashed the provisional warrant of 23 October on the ground that Senator Pinochet was entitled to immunity, he was thereupon free to return to Chile subject only to the stay to permit the appeal to your Lordships' House. The matter proceeded to your Lordships' House with great speed. It was heard on 4, 5 and 9–12 November 1998 by a committee consisting of Lord Slynn of Hadley, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead, Lord Steyn and Lord Hoffmann. However, before the main hearing of the appeal, there was an interlocutory decision of the greatest importance for the purposes of the present application. Amnesty International ("AI"), two other human rights bodies and three individuals petitioned for leave to intervene in the appeal. Such leave was granted by a committee consisting of Lord Slynn, Lord Nicholls and Lord Steyn subject to any protest being made by other parties at the start of the main hearing. No such protest having been made AI accordingly became an intervener in the appeal. At the hearing of the appeal AI not only put in written submissions but was also represented by counsel, Professor Brownlie Q.C., Michael Fordham, Owen Davies and Frances Webber. Professor Brownlie addressed the committee on behalf of AI supporting the appeal.


The hearing of this case, both before the Divisional Court and in your Lordships' House, produced an unprecedent degree of public interest not only in this country but worldwide. The case raises fundamental issues of public international law and their interaction with the domestic law of this country. The conduct of Senator Pinochet and his regime have been highly contentious and emotive matters. There are many Chileans and supporters of human rights who have no doubt as to his guilt and are anxious to bring him to trial somewhere in the world. There are many others who are his supporters and believe that he was the saviour of Chile. Yet a third group believe that, whatever the truth of the matter, it is a matter for Chile to sort out internally and not for third parties to interfere in the delicate balance of contemporary Chilean politics by seeking to try him outside Chile.


This wide public interest was reflected in the very large number attending the hearings before the Appellate Committee including representatives of the world press. The Palace of Westminster was picketed throughout. The announcement of the final result gave rise to worldwide reactions. In the eyes of very many people the issue was not a mere legal issue but whether or not Senator Pinochet was to stand trial and therefore, so it was thought, the cause of human rights triumph. Although the members of the Appellate Committee were in no doubt as to their function, the issue for many people was one of moral, not legal, right or wrong.


The decision and afterwards.


Judgment in your Lordships' House was given on 25 November 1998. The appeal was allowed by a majority of three to two and your Lordships' House restored the second warrant of 23 October 1998. Of the majority, Lord Nicholls and Lord Steyn each delivered speeches holding that Senator Pinochet was not entitled to immunity: Lord Hoffmann agreed with their speeches but did not give separate reasons for allowing the appeal. Lord Slynn and Lord Lloyd each gave separate speeches setting out the reasons for their dissent.


As a result of this decision, Senator Pinochet was required to remain in this country to await the decision of the Home Secretary whether to authorise the continuation of the proceedings for his extradition under section 7(1) of the Extradition Act 1989. The Home Secretary had until the 11 December 1998 to make that decision, but he required anyone wishing to make representations on the point to do so by the 30 November 1998.


The link between Lord Hoffmann and AI


It appears that neither Senator Pinochet nor (save to a very limited extent) his legal advisers were aware of any connection between Lord Hoffmann and AI until after the judgment was given on 25 November. Two members of the legal team recalled that they had heard rumours that Lord Hoffmann's wife was connected with AI in some way. During the Newsnight programme on television on 25 November, an allegation to that effect was made by a speaker in Chile. On that limited information the representations made on Senator Pinochet's behalf to the Home Secretary on 30 November drew attention to Lady Hoffmann's position and contained a detailed consideration of the relevant law of bias.


It then read:

"It is submitted therefore that the Secretary of State should not have any regard to the decision of Lord Hoffmann. The authorities make it plain that this is the appropriate approach to a decision that is affected by bias. Since the bias was in the House of Lords, the Secretary of State represents the senator's only domestic protection. Absent domestic protection the senator will have to invoke the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights."


After the representations had been made to the Home Office, Senator Pinochet's legal advisers received a letter dated 1 December 1998 from the solicitors acting for AI written in response to a request for information as to Lord Hoffmann's links. The letter of 1 December, so far as relevant, reads as follows:

"Further to our letter of 27 November, we are informed by our clients, Amnesty International, that Lady Hoffmann has been working at their International Secretariat since 1977. She has always been employed in administrative positions, primarily in their department dealing with press and publications. She moved to her present position of Programme Assistant to the Director of the Media and Audio Visual Programme when this position was established in 1994.

"Lady Hoffmann provides administrative support to the Programme, including...

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