Pinochet prosecutors await next move in game of constitutional chess

The House of Lords will today adjudicate on the Crown Prosecution Service's appeal against its ruling last week that General Pinochet is immune from prosecution as a former head of state.

In an unprecedented move the Lords will hear testimonies from people tortured in Chile during Pinochet's regime, which controlled the country between 1973 and 1990. Ian Brownlie QC will represent former torture victims in a development that could sway the outcome of whether or not Pinochet is released.

Submissions are likely to be highly emotive, adding a personal aspect to an otherwise systematic legal process. Among those expected to testify are the relatives of William Beausire, the British businessman who according to 14 documented eye witness reports, was tortured before disappearing.

Also sure to affect the balance of the appeal is the recent judgement in Madrid's Central Court which found examining magistrate, Judge Balthazar Garzon, does indeed posses the jurisdiction necessary to try the ex-dictator. However, the landmark decision is only academic unless James Lewis QC acting on behalf of the Crown Prosecution Service, the Kingdom of Spain and the Metropolitan police wins the appeal for the extradition proceeding to continue.

Should the Lords uphold Lord Bingham, the Lord Chief Justice's verdict that that Pinochet is immune from prosecution, there remains the proposed option of a speedily convened, international tribunal.

Britain signed a treaty in Rome on 17th July this year which allows for a worldwide criminal court that could potentially initiate a case against Pinochet. Although the General's claim to sovereign immunity may be granted in Britain, no such defence is valid should he be summoned before an international court. This plan, seen by some as a kind of fallback solution, can however only be executed with a considerable degree of proactive engagement by the British and Spanish governments.

Both Mr. Aznar and Mr. Blair have so far not shown the level of political will to intervene which would bring about this scenario, and without their commitment an international trial remains little more than a pipe dream for human rights campaigners.

In the event of Spain's extradition attempt floundering, Swiss authorities are believed to have an extradition order ready that could still see Pinochet detained for the disappearance of the Swiss-Chilean national, Alexis Jaccard, who was kidnapped in Santiago in 1977.

In Stockholm, exiles have requested Pinochet be brought to Sweden to face charges of kidnapping and murder of their family members.

Finally, France may put Pinochet on trial in Paris as three French nationals disappeared after the coup; including Rene Chanfreau, who was last seen in the infamous prison camp at 'Colonia Dignidad' in southern Chile.

Another possibility of pursuing Pinochet through the courts is a British trial for crimes committed against UK citizens in Chile, including the deaths of Michael Woodward, a priest and Edward Beausire, a businessman. The British doctor, Sheila Cassidy, was also tortured in Santiago in 1975 and has recently pledged to give evidence against General Pinochet's regime.