The Pinochet Case: International Criminal Justice in the Gothic Style?

AuthorDavid Sugarman
Publication Date01 Nov 2001
The Pinochet Case: International Criminal Justice in the
Gothic Style?
David Sugarman*
Diana Woodhouse (ed),The Pinochet Case: A Legal and Constitutional
Analysis, Oxford: Hart Publishing, 2000, 297pp, hb £30.00.
The character of Britain’s public buildings reflects the nature of its polity. Take the
Judicial Committee of the House of Lords. While the new Law Courts in the Strand
have been modernised, at least to some extent, the facilities afforded to Britain’s
supreme court of appeal compare poorly with those of other countries and are
singularly unsuited to its judicial role.1Certainly its location in a building designed
and constructed as a royal palace,2with virtually no space for government
ministers or political parties (let alone judges and lawyers), is a telling symbol of
the exclusive, pre-democratic, pre-modern dimensions of the British constitution
and its legal culture.
Nowhere was this more evident than during the proceedings before the Judicial
Committee of the House of Lords in the Pinochet case. Those fortunate to obtain a
seat at the hearing will not forget the excessively cramped conditions and the poor
acoustics and ventilation. Like the Old House of Commons, it could be described
as ‘The second edition of the Black Hole of Calcutta’.3For the lawyers involved,
this was compounded by being squashed together, as in a rugby scrum, without
photocopying facilities or a law library.
Yet it was within this almost medieval setting that the Law Lords tortuously, and
with some kicking and screaming, dragged international law into the new
millennium. In an unprecedented and breathtaking series of decisions the judges in
lounge suites revolutionised international law. No wonder that foreign observers –
like anthropologists observing strange natives – marvelled at the peculiar majesty
of English justice. Bagehot would have enjoyed the irony.4
The drama associated with the attempt to render Senator Pinochet legally
accountable for crimes of state caught the imagination around the world. Never
ßThe Modern Law Review Limited 2001 (MLR 64:6, November). Published by Blackwell Publishers,
108 Cowley Road, Oxford OX4 1JF and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA. 933
* Law School, Lancaster University.
1 Concerning the new Law Courts on the Strand, see David B. Brownlee, The Law Courts (New York:
The Architectural Foundation, 1984). On the architectural history of the Victorian Houses of
Parliament, see M. H. Port, ‘The New Houses of Parliament.’ In The History of the King’s Works, Vol.
V 1782–1851, ed. J. Mordaunt Crook and M.H. Port, (London: HMSO, 1973) 573–626; and M.H.
Port, (ed), The Houses of Parliament (New Haven: Yale UP, 1976).
2 On the regal nature of the new Houses of Parliament, see Roland Quinault, ‘Westminster and the
Victorian Constitution’ Trans. Royal Hist. Soc. 6th Series, vol II (London: RHS, 1992) 79–104, 81–
86, 103–104.
3 Quoted in (ed), n 2 above, 79.
4 See Walter Bagehot, The English Constitution. N. St John Stevas vol v, The Collected Works of
Walter Bagehot (London: The Economist, 1967). See, further, Stefan Collini, et al. That Noble
Science of Politics (Cambridge: CUP, 1983), ch 5.

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