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Declarations & Statements


The Independent, 18.01.00

CPS may take Straw to court over Pinochet. By Kim Sengupta

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is set to take the extraordinary step of forcing Jack Straw into court over his decision to release General Augusto Pinochet.

Senior lawyers acting for the CPS believe there are grounds for seeking a judicial review over the Home Secretary's handling of the medical report which will in effect allow the former Chilean dictator to avoid extradition to Spain on charges of human rights abuse.

Any attempt by the CPS to get the Home Office to court to defend itself over the general's release will be acutely embarrassing to Mr Straw, who is already facing severe criticism over the affair. He and his officials will have to give written testimony.

Senior CPS sources stressed last night that it will only act if instructed to do so by the Spanish authorities, which it represents in the extradition case.

Spain yesterday announced it was backing Judge Baltasar Garzon's request that fresh medical tests should be carried out to see if General Pinochet, 84, is unfit to stand trial.

The move represents a significant change of stance by the government in Madrid, which said last week it was not prepared to forward any further requests from the judge to London. The lawyer Joan Garces, a prime mover in Judge Garzon's extradition hearings, said instructions had been presented in London to take action over a judicial review "should sound legal grounds present themselves".

There was frantic activity last night ahead of today's 5pm deadline set by the Home Secretary for interested parties to make their submissions on whether he should accept the medical report. Human rights groups and former political prisoners of the Pinochet regime will ask for the report to be made public and back the Spanish call for a fresh medical examination.

The CPS case for a judicial review will include examining the case of Roisin McAliskey, which had been widely referred to as a precedent in the Pinochet affair.

Ms McAliskey was freed by Mr Straw while facing extradition to Germany in connection with an IRA bomb attack. The CPS is expected to stress that in that case, in which it represented the German government, it was allowed details of the medical reports on Ms McAliskey, and was permitted to question the evidence in hearings. It was denied these opportunities in the Pinochet case.

Mr Straw had claimed that he had not been able to pass the report to the CPS because the general had refused to waive his rights under client-patient confidentiality. But, according to supporters of Pinochet, it was the Home Office which first mentioned the report could be confidential.

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