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Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, for his contribution. He has occupied the important office of state of Home Secretary and will no doubt appreciate the complexities of the issues that have arisen in this case. Indeed, he made a very fair and reasonable point. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary made a very important observation in that regard in his Statement. He acknowledged that the issue has aroused great debate and feeling and that the impact of the case has been felt worldwide--I repeat: 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.
Clearly that important statement and observation will have worldwide ramifications and implications. I suspect and hope that it will lead to an improvement in human rights across the world. That is something of which we in this country should be rightly proud. If our position in this matter is understood worldwide, I think that that will do a great deal to improve the observance of human rights, as well as the rights, of people who perhaps suffer from unfortunate, oppressive and unwelcome regimes across the world.
Lord Richard: My Lords, is my noble friend the Minister aware that, speaking for myself, I believe that the Home Secretary has got it absolutely right? When General Pinochet arrived in this country and a request for extradition was made, the Home Secretary and the Government were absolutely right to see that as a judicial and not a political matter. It was right that it should be dealt with through the courts. Indeed, it was dealt with twice through the courts, right up to the highest court in the land. If no issue had been raised as to General Pinochet's state of health, no doubt it would have continued to be determined as a judicial matter, as should be the case.
Whatever the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, says, matters of extradition are primarily for judicial and not political determination. Once the issue of Senator Pinochet's health was raised, it was right for the Home Secretary to ask that he should be properly examined; and, indeed, he was. We have all had the opportunity to read the report that has been produced, as someone leaked it during the course of the proceedings. It was firm, very clear and quite conclusive that the man could not stand trial; that he could not understand; and that he might well not be able to follow the charges that he would face. In those circumstances, if Senator Pinochet was unfit to stand trial, the Home Secretary was absolutely right to take the decision that the trial should not take place.
Lord Lamont of Lerwick: My Lords, as someone who has been critical of the Government on this matter, perhaps I may acknowledge that there were very serious abuses of human rights under the military government, as, indeed, I have always acknowledged. However, would not today's Statement have been more honest if it had acknowledged that the proceedings in this country have been strongly opposed from the very beginning by the democratically-elected government of Chile, consisting of General Pinochet's opponents?
How can it be that the Spanish Government--of all governments--who have never put a single person on trial after the abuses of the Franco years, think that they can sit in judgment on the internal political settlement in Chile? How can a British Government, who have let out of gaol hundreds of torturers, bombers and murderers (people who belong to an organisation that has killed a higher proportion of the population of Ulster than has ever been alleged against the army of Chile) and allowed a former terrorist into the government of Northern Ireland, assume the right to interfere and over-rule the judgment of the elected government of Chile? Was not the interference simply what President Frei of Chile called it; namely, "judicial colonialism"?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I totally reject the noble Lord's last comment and observation. Frankly, I believe that to be utter nonsense. We have to abide by the processes of international law when considering extradition cases. That is only right and proper. The rule of law is the rule of law, and we should stick by it. I believe that to be a fundamental and important building block of our British constitution. I am sure that all other Members of your Lordships' House share that view.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, we on these Benches strongly support what the Minister has just said. The Home Secretary is endeavouring to uphold a system of international law, which is under constant attack. We have made it plain from all sides of the House that his behaviour was both courageous and steadfast. However, Chile will now be receiving not a returned hero but a dictator whose poor health has meant that he has escaped the proper processes of justice.
Can the Minister tell us whether we can expect a reasonably early ratification of the International Criminal Court, to which my noble friend referred? In the desperate attempt by the world to establish a legal system that will be recognised beyond borders, the ICC is the long step towards establishing such a system of law. By ratification, this Government's support for it at this stage would be an extremely important step to take.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the noble Baroness always speaks with great wisdom on these matters. It is worth reminding ourselves that the United Kingdom Government have fully supported the establishment of an international criminal court. The publication of a Bill in this Session to implement the Rome statute was announced in the Queen's Speech. The Foreign Secretary is deeply committed to continuing to push for an effective international criminal court. We see the establishment of that court and conforming with the practices, processes and procedures of international law and the requirements that it places upon us as an important part of our international obligations. I am happy to confirm our position on that matter. I very much welcome the noble Baroness's other comments.
Lord Borrie: My Lords, I wish to take a stage further the question that was first put by the noble Lord, Lord McNally. After the Home Secretary made the decision that Pinochet should be extradited, why did he keep to himself--he will, of course, have received medical advice on the matter--the issue of whether or not he was fit to stand trial? Procedures, trials and forms of trial are different in different countries. I do not claim to be an expert on Spanish criminal procedures. In Spain counsel may take a prominent part in the procedures, but the accused may take part to a far lesser extent than is the case in this country. A great deal of the defence may be conducted by defence counsel, although the accused will, of course, discuss matters with them in private. Surely one may be considered fit to stand trial in Spain, whereas one may not necessarily be considered fit to stand trial in the UK. Did the Home Secretary take adequate advice from Spanish lawyers and others as to whether fitness to stand trial in Spain was considered, rather than just general advice as though trials and procedures are the same everywhere?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am grateful for the noble Lord's question. The Home Secretary has to make a judgment based on the medical evidence in front of him. He quite properly took the view that the mode of trial in Spain that was proposed was similar to our procedure. The medical evidence was an important consideration. There had to be an equality of understanding in both jurisdictions. Given the medical condition of Senator Pinochet, he was no better qualified to stand trial in Spain than in our own jurisdiction. Having taken those considerations into account, the Home Secretary reached his conclusion. If Senator Pinochet could not achieve a coherent understanding of the legal procedures and processes in
Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord can help me. Am I right in understanding from the Home Secretary's Statement, which the noble Lord so kindly repeated, that the application of the universal principle that no transgressor of human rights would be safe if he or she travelled to this country goes a little wider than someone merely being trapped by an extradition order? If I am right in understanding that to be the burden of what was implied by the noble Lord's right honourable friend, would it not be helpful--perhaps the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General might be able to assist us here--for the Government to make some kind of statement in this House in order that we should understand how the Government will apply this fine-sounding new principle? Do they intend to be selective in applying it and, if so, what rules will they apply if the matter goes wider than merely extradition? If the Government do not intend to be selective in applying the principle, how will they deal with the political consequences of not being selective?
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