HC Deb 01 February 2001 vol 362 cc441-2
32. Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

What plans he has to start proceedings relating to the deaths of William Beausire and Father Michael Woodward in Chile. [146808]

The Solicitor-General

It will not be a surprise to my hon. Friend when I say that I have no plans. Many people, including William Beausire and Father Michael Woodward, were tortured and murdered under General Pinochet's regime in Chile in the 1970s. Our courts, however, do not have jurisdiction to try those responsible for those appalling acts. As I said in my statement to the House on General Pinochet, on 2 March 2000, the criminal offences both of torture—which is contrary to section 134 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988—and of hostage-taking under the Taking of Hostages Act 1982, which otherwise might apply, were not retrospective and could not be made to apply to matters such as the two deaths about which my hon. Friend inquires.

Mr. Corbyn

I am disappointed with that answer. Also disappointing was the Department's attitude to the possibility of holding a private prosecution of General Pinochet when he was held in this country, and to supporting an application in the Chilean courts. Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that a case has been successfully deposited in the High Court in Chile regarding Charles Horman, a US national who was also murdered in that country? That case is listed for hearing. Will not he re-examine the mountain of evidence relating to the cases mentioned in my question, and the new evidence from a Chilean navy officer who witnessed the torture of Father Woodward?

The two victims will never return. Will not my hon. and learned Friend also meet their relatives, and see what practical legal support can be given to the families to help them mount a serious case against Pinochet and all his henchmen in the Chilean courts, where hundreds of such cases are at last being mounted?

The Solicitor-General

Under the Criminal Justice (International Co-operation) Act 1990, it is possible for authorities in this country to assist prosecutors in Chile, and that might well happen.

In addition, what this country did in relation to Senator Pinochet has had a catalytic effect in Chile. That is a good thing. Secondly, were these appalling crimes to occur today—God forbid that they would—the cases could be tried in a court here.