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Madam Speaker: We shall now take the first statement.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): On a point of order--

Madam Speaker: Order. Points of order always come after statements.

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Senator Pinochet

1.20 pm

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Jack Straw): With permission, Madam Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the case of Senator Pinochet, former Head of State of Chile.

This morning, I informed the House by written answer that I had discharged Senator Pinochet from the Spanish extradition request, on the grounds that he was unfit to stand trial and that no significant improvement in his condition could be expected. I also reported my decision not to issue an authority to proceed in the competing extradition requests from Belgium, France and Switzerland, because none of those disclosed an extradition crime. A detailed explanation of my reasons is included in my answer.

The House will also now be aware, from the written answer given earlier today by my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General, that the Director of Public Prosecutions has decided, on the material available to him, that there is no realistic prospect of a conviction in this jurisdiction, and that in any event, in the light of the medical condition of Senator Pinochet, no court here would allow a trial to take place. My hon. and learned Friend will be making a statement to the House immediately after mine.

Senator Pinochet departed from his bail address at Wentworth, Surrey this morning. He was driven under police escort to RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire. A plane provided by the Chilean Government and carrying Senator Pinochet took off at about 1.10 this afternoon. The senator has now left the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom.

Let me now give the House a full account of what has happened in this case, as I said I would once the proceedings were concluded. I begin by making some general observations. My role under the Extradition Act 1989 is a quasi-judicial one. Although not generally incorporated into our domestic law, both the European extradition convention and the United Nations torture convention place important obligations on the United Kingdom, but I have to discharge those obligations within the powers and responsibilities placed upon me by United Kingdom law.

All the decisions which I have taken have been mine alone, and have not been decisions of Her Majesty's Government. Throughout, I have been keenly aware of the gravity of the crimes allegedly committed by Senator Pinochet and of the desire for justice by those who suffered at the hands of the former Chilean regime.

This has been an unprecedented case. Both I and the courts have had to navigate in uncharted territory. Two judicial Committees of the House of Lords took different views about what offences constituted extradition crimes. More recently, Mr. Justice Maurice Kay ruled that my refusal of Belgium's request for disclosure of the medical report which I had commissioned was correct. Shortly afterwards, a full divisional court, while acknowledging strong arguments on both sides, came to the opposite view.

The following is the chronology of the significant events. Senator Pinochet landed at Heathrow airport on 22 September 1998, for a private visit to the United Kingdom. On 16 October, the Metropolitan police

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received an extradition request from a Madrid court for the provisional arrest of Senator Pinochet for serious offences, including the murder of Spanish citizens. The police were advised by officials of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that Senator Pinochet did not enjoy diplomatic immunity from arrest. Bow Street magistrates court then issued a provisional arrest warrant, and Senator Pinochet was arrested that evening.

Senator Pinochet's solicitors made representations to me on 21 October 1998, asking me to cancel the provisional arrest warrant. I declined to do so, on the basis that the issues raised at that stage were a matter for the court. Senator Pinochet's solicitors challenged my decision. A divisional court, headed by the Lord Chief Justice, rejected that challenge and awarded me my costs. The court nevertheless quashed the warrant on the grounds that Senator Pinochet did have sovereign immunity as a former Head of State and that the warrant did not disclose an extradition crime.

The Crown Prosecution Service, acting on behalf of Spain, then entered an appeal to the House of Lords. In a unique feature of the case, the issue was considered twice by the House of Lords, first in November 1998 and then, after the first judgment was vacated, in March 1999. The key majority finding of the second court was that torture was an international crime over which the parties to the torture convention had universal jurisdiction, and that a former Head of State did not have immunity from such crimes. That ruling was a landmark judgment in human rights law, whose impact has been felt far beyond our shores. It will be a permanent legacy of the Pinochet case.

The second House of Lords judgment restricted the scope and number of the alleged crimes in respect of which Senator Pinochet could be extradited for torture and conspiracy to torture committed in Chile after the UK'S ratification of the torture convention in December 1988. The charges were, of course, still extremely serious.

I issued a second authority to proceed on 14 April 1999, giving my reasons. A second judicial challenge to my decision was made by Senator Pinochet's representatives, but was again rejected by the divisional court. On 8 October 1999, Senator Pinochet was committed by the Bow Street magistrate to await my decision on whether to extradite him to Spain. Senator Pinochet's solicitors applied for habeas corpus, and a hearing date was set for 20 March this year.

On 14 October 1999, I received representations from the Chilean embassy, supported by medical reports which suggested that there had been a recent and significant deterioration in Senator Pinochet's health. I commissioned a medical examination of Senator Pinochet by a team of independent practitioners of outstanding national and international reputation in their fields. The team consisted of Professor Sir John Grimley Evans, Professor Andrew Lees and Dr. Michael Denham. On the team's advice, Dr. Maria Wyke, a consultant neuropsychologist, was also brought in.

I want to put on record my gratitude to Sir John Grimley Evans and his team for their assistance. They have performed a very significant public service. They have not been able to speak freely in explaining and, where necessary, defending their findings, despite widespread public scrutiny.

The clinicians were instructed to undertake an examination and to provide me with a fully comprehensive report on the state of Senator Pinochet's

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health. In particular, they were asked to advise whether any aspects of Senator Pinochet's health suggested that he was not then fit, or was likely to become fit, to stand trial in Spain. They were told that I was particularly interested in Senator Pinochet's ability to follow a line of questioning, to recall events--some of which took place as long ago as the 1970s--and to give coherent evidence. They were also asked to advise me on whether Senator Pinochet could be feigning any of his symptoms.

As I disclosed in my statement on 12 January, the conclusions of the medical report, applying the tests that I had outlined, indicated that Senator Pinochet was unfit to stand trial and that no significant improvements in that position could be expected. The Government's chief medical officer, Professor Liam Donaldson, confirmed the quality and thoroughness of the report. I am placing a copy in the Library of the House.

I informed the interested parties on 11 January that, in the light of the medical evidence and subject to any representations received by 18 January, I was minded to conclude that no purpose would be served by continuing the Spanish extradition request.

On 25 January, a judicial review application was made by Belgium and Amnesty International for disclosure of the medical report. In inviting Senator Pinochet to undertake the medical examination, officials had, on my behalf, given an undertaking of confidentiality. I indicated to the divisional court that although I would have preferred to disclose the medical report to the requesting states, I considered myself bound by the undertakings that I had given, subject to any overriding public interest.

Mr. Justice Maurice Kay held that the report should not be disclosed, but a full divisional court, in a judgment of 15 February, said that while the issue had been a very difficult one, the need for transparency to the requesting states in this exceptional case outweighed any duty of confidentiality. It said, however, that I should disclose the report to Spain, Belgium, France and Switzerland only in terms of strict confidence. I complied with the judgment. I regret to say that the content of that report was almost immediately leaked to the press.

Requesting states were invited to make any representation on the medical report by Tuesday 22 February. The representations included opinions from medical practitioners questioning the conclusions of the report. I asked Professor Sir John Grimley Evans and his team to review those medical opinions, and received their advice on 27 February. The team's advice was also reviewed on 28 February by the Government's chief medical officer, Professor Liam Donaldson. He commented:

I considered the matter afresh in the light of all the material. Having done so, I was satisfied that the conclusion of the original report was correct. I intend to place the medical representations and the team's response in the Library once I have secured the agreement of the requesting states.

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The principle that an accused person should be mentally capable of following the proceedings, instructing lawyers and giving coherent evidence is fundamental to the idea of a fair trial. The trial of an accused in the condition diagnosed in Senator Pinochet, on the charges that have been made against him in this case, could not be fair in any country, and would violate article 6 of the European convention on human rights in those countries that are party to it.

A number of the representations that I received argued that even if there were questions about Senator Pinochet's fitness for trial, those should be determined in Spain and not here. I looked at that matter with great care. However, I was advised, and I concluded, that on the basis of English law I was bound to form a view of my own on Senator Pinochet's fitness to stand trial and that I could not refrain from reaching such a view on the basis that the question could be determined in Spain.

In any event, I established, with the assistance of the Spanish authorities, that Spain's principles for determining the fitness of an accused to stand trial are similar to ours. I therefore concluded that given the advice that no improvement in Senator Pinochet's condition could be expected, no judicial purpose would be served by the continuation of extradition proceedings for the objective of a trial in Spain which could not result in any verdict on the charges against him.

Of the 70,000 letters and e-mails from the public which I have received from all over the world, and many letters from Members of Parliament and organisations, almost all have urged me to allow the extradition proceedings to take their course, so that the allegations made against Senator Pinochet could be tried. I attach great importance to the principle that universal jurisdiction against persons charged with international crimes should be effective.

I am all too well aware that the practical consequence of refusing to extradite Senator Pinochet to Spain is that he will probably not be tried anywhere. I am very conscious of the sense of injury that is bound to be felt by those who suffered from breaches of human rights in Chile in the past, as well as their relatives.

All of these are matters of great concern, and I had them very much in mind when considering the evidence about Senator Pinochet's state of health. They have been among the reasons why I required the evidence of Senator Pinochet's medical condition to satisfy a high standard of expertise, thoroughness, objectivity and cogency before I was prepared to act on it. Ultimately, however, I was driven to the conclusion that a trial of the charges against Senator Pinochet, however desirable, was simply no longer possible.

The case has taken 17 months, much of that in court proceedings. While the House of Lords hearings on state immunity were indeed an exceptional feature, that period is not an unusual one in a complex, contested extradition matter. The Extradition Act 1989 is now more than a decade old and I believe that the time has come to review it. Work on that was in fact already under way before the Pinochet case began, and I intend to publish a consultation paper in due course on the options for streamlining our extradition procedures.

As I have already made clear, this case is unprecedented. Throughout the process, I have sought to exercise my responsibilities in a fair and rational way in accordance with the law. The case has understandably

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aroused great debate and feeling. Its impact has been felt worldwide. It has established, beyond question, the principle that those who commit human rights abuses in one country cannot assume that they are safe elsewhere. That will be the lasting legacy of this case.

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