Master of the Rolls clashes with Scott over Lyell attack

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The Independent Online

Political Correspondent

Sir Richard Scott moved yesterday to defend his 1,800-page report on the export of arms to Iraq for the second time in two days, after a more senior judge seemed to disagree with its findings against Sir Nicholas Lyell, the Attorney General.

Sir Thomas Bingham, the Master of the Rolls, appeared to hand the Government a propaganda coup by telling the BBC that Sir Nicholas's advice that ministers should sign so-called gagging orders was entirely reasonable. But Christopher Muttukumaru, secretary to the Scott inquiry, wrote a blunt letter to the BBC accusing it of misrepresenting Sir Richard's views in its interview with Sir Thomas.

Sir Thomas told the BBC: "The Attorney General was doing his best in good faith ... he was relying accurately on the authority as it stood at the time, that the task of judgement ... lay with the courts and not with the ministers."

Sir Thomas said he had "the greatest admiration for Sir Richard Scott, who seems to me to have conducted a wonderful and comprehensive inquiry, but I think his view on this question is not one that all judges and practitioners would have shared".

Mr Muttukumaru said the BBC had asked Sir Thomas if he agreed with the Scott report that Public Interest Immunity Certificates should "never" be used in criminal cases. "You are wrong to attribute that view to Sir Richard," Mr Muttukumaru wrote, demanding the BBC issue a correction. He said Sir Richard only opposed "blanket" gagging orders which withheld whole classes of documents from the courts.

In a separate letter, Mr Muttukumaru also said Sir Richard backed Labour's demand that the Government publish the names of ministers and officials who saw the Scott report in advance.

Yesterday's exchanges took place against the background of a highly-charged political atmosphere in relation to Monday's vote and speculation that an October election had suddenly become more likely in the wake of Peter Thurnham's defection from the Conservative Party.