Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Second day of lawyers' testimony to Chilcot

I'm just watching the evidence of Lord Goldsmith, the attorney-general at the time of the Iraq adventure, to the Chilcot Inquiry. Questions centre on three statements of advice he gave to the prime minister. Only the last one stated that it was definitely lawful to invade.

It is not easy to follow his convoluted arguments, but they seem to boil down to this: there was a reasonable case for using sufficient force in order to compel Saddam to correct a material breach of UN Resolution 1441. However, what constituted a "material breach" and "sufficient force" could be decided by politicians. He couldn't say definitively that it was lawful to invade without a a specific further resolution by the UN. He only decided to give a firm "Yes" in his final advice in order to put at rest the minds of civil servants and soldiers who were going to be called upon to act upon the Prime Minister's determination  to proceed. The implication is that he personally had not reached a black or white judgment on the matter, but merely leant towards intervention.

I am not a lawyer, but it seems to me that, in criminal law, a reasonable case is no more than a green light to go to trial in a higher court. As to leaving the users of force to judge whether it was no more than sufficient is akin to giving carte blanche to international vigilantism.

Lord Goldsmith made one interesting statement: that lawfulness was not the only justification for going to war. The word "morality" hung in the air without actually being spoken.

It seems that my earlier posting was prophetic.  As Michael Savage put it in the Indy today, Sir Michael Wood's "evidence blew apart assertions made repeatedly by Mr Blair's ministers and advisers at the time of Ms [Elizabeth] Wilmshurst's resignation that her views were not shared by Sir Michael or other lawyers at the department".

On one side we have a legal politician (the attorney-general) and a politician with a domestic legal career behind him (Jack Straw); on the other we have Wilmshurst and Wood, steeped in international law. I know whose opinion I would rather take.

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