The Law Lords, Amnesty International and the Pinochet Case: What Happened and Why?
The The Law Lords, Amnesty International and the Pinochet Case: What Happened and Why? will be held on Thursday November 25 2010 at The Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (Council Chamber), London @ 6pm.*
25/11/2010 LECTURE Professor David Sugarman Director, Centre for Law and Society, Lancaster University; IALS Associate Senior Research Fellow The Law Lords, Amnesty International and the Pinochet Case: What Happened and Why? Venue: The Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (Council Chamber), London @ 6pm See below for full details'Sugarman _Lecture' The Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, University of London and The Centre for Law and Society, Lancaster University In association withThe British Institute of International and Comparative LawThe Centre for Contemporary British History @ Kings College, London The Legal History Section of the Society of Legal Scholars and SOLON announce aPublic Lecture:Professor David SugarmanDirector, Centre for Law and Society, Lancaster University;IALS Associate Senior Research FellowThe Law Lords, Amnesty International and the Pinochet Case: What Happened and Why?25 November 2010 Venue: The Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (Council Chamber), London @ 6pmIn November 1998 Britain's highest court, the judicial committee of the House of Lords (the Law Lords), reached the epoch-making decision to reject the claim of immunity from Chile's former dictator and head of state, Augusto Pinochet. They held that high office can never provide an absolute defence for crimes such as torture, accepting the argument of Amnesty International and others who had been allowed to intervene in the case. It was a decision that initiated a new stage in human rights accountability and its significance has lasted far beyond the return of Pinochet to Chile in March 1990 on grounds of ill-health, and his consequent escape from prosecution. The drama associated with the attempt to render Pinochet legally accountable for crimes of state caught the imagination around the world. Never before had the decisions of the Law Lords and the activities of Amnesty International generated such international attention.However, the Pinochet case was to become the most traumatic moment in the history of both Britain's top court and of Amnesty International. It also briefly shone unflattering and unwelcome light on the legal profession. The decision to reject Pinochet's claim to immunity had been decided by a bare, 3 to 2, majority. One of the three judges composing the majority, Lord Hoffmann, was the chair of a trust which conducted Amnesty International's charitable work in the UK, and his wife was an employee of Amnesty International. Pinochet's lawyers, deploying this information, applied to the House of Lords to set aside its own judgment on the ground of Lord Hoffmann's apparent bias. The Law Lords acceded to the application of Pinochet's lawyers and for the first time in its history set aside their earlier decision. Lord Hoffmann, it was argued, lacked the appearance of judicial independence that is one of the hallmarks of a fair trial. Although the Law Lords subsequently reaffirmed its decision to extradite Pinochet to Spain, it did so on a much narrower legal basis. The number of cases for which Pinochet might be held responsible was slashed from hundreds to just three. And the Law Lords pointedly requested that the Home Secretary (Jack Straw) reconsider his decision to extradite Pinochet to Spain in the light of their decision. In effect, they gave Straw a wink and a nod that he could, and should, send Pinochet home, thereby removing from the spotlight an issue that had damaged the reputation of the British legal system.The Law Lords cancellation of the initial verdict was humiliating. It created the impression that Britain's top court was incompetent and amateurish.Drawing on original research, including hundreds of interviews with many of the key players - including judges, senior officials, lawyers, activists and politicians - the public lecture, and its attendant publication, will for the first time provide a full account of the circumstances of the Pinochet case, from the arrest of Pinochet, and the decision to allow Amnesty International to intervene, to the Hoffmann debacle, and the subsequent decisions of the Lords, both to hear the case again and to cut-back on the basis of the Pinochet precedent. Both the lecture and publication describe and analyse the public and private events surrounding the Law Lords decisions in the Pinochet case and the conduct of Amnesty International and the lawyers involved. They examine the significance of the Pinochet case in the subsequent establishment of the Supreme Court, contemporary notions of fair trials and judicial conduct and the activities NGOs such as Amnesty International. The Pinochet case raised fundamental questions concerning the practices of the Law Lords and the legal profession, the nature and scope of judicial recusal, the use of interveners, the judicialisation of power and the role and accountability of NGOs. It also posed major issues concerning the relationship between law and politics, and the propensity of judges and NGOs to expose themselves to possible conflicts of interest. On the twelfth anniversary of the Pinochet case, it is useful to reflect on its singularity, and on what it teaches us about the politics of human rights and the conduct of our top courts, lawyers and NGOs.
* Dates mays also indicate the beginning of a multi-day event.