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Declarations & Statements


The Independent, 22.1.00

Straw gives Pinochet opponents more time. By Kim Sengupta

Jack Straw has written to all sides in the Pinochet affair, asking them to clarify their legal submissions in a move which will further delay his decision on whether the general should return to Chile or be extradited to Spain.

No decision will be made until Tuesday at the earliest, the new deadline for additional information to be submitted by Augusto Pinochet's supporters and opponents. After doctors found he was not well enough to stand trial in Spain on charges of murder and torture, Mr Straw said he was "minded" to let him return to Chile, but allowed his opponents time to make representations before a final decision.

Last night the Home Office said Mr Straw had written to General Pinochet's lawyers and to solicitors representing Amnesty International and the Spanish government, asking them for more information. A spokeswoman said Mr Straw wanted them to "clarify certain points in their representations", but did not explain exactly what extra information he required. The parties have until 5pm on Monday to respond, after which time Mr Straw will make his decision "as soon as possible".

Yesterday the Home Secretary fended off criticism by the British Medical Association over the decision not to publish medical reports on the former dictator.

The comments were by Michael Wilks, chairman of the BMA ethics committee, who said: "The experts appointed by the Home Secretary acted in a forensic capacity. In being asked to provide an opinion on the general's fitness to stand trial, the reports compiled should be disclosable in any judicial procedures, and the opinion therein tested in court."

Mr Straw has been urged to order new tests on the general amid warnings that there could have been serious flaws in the examination by a team of experts earlier this month. Campaign groups have not ruled out seeking a judicial review of his decision.

Mr Straw said his decision not to give details of the tests on the general was taken "on the basis of very careful legal advice". However, General Pinochet's supporters have said that the issue of the report being confidential had been raised first by the Home Office. Only when this was attacked was the general asked whether he would agree to make it public, which he refused to do.

The Crown Prosecution Service awaited developments in Spain yesterday over instructions from Judge Baltasar Garzon to seek a judicial review if Mr Straw decides to free the former dictator. The Spanish Foreign Ministry has refused to pass on Judge Garzon's instruction to London, and now faces legal action by the judge and other senior members of the judiciary.

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