Menzies Campbell: 'It matters because the law matters'

Share
Related Topics

The already overwhelming case for the publication of the Attorney General's advice of 7 March 2003 - 12 days before British troops went into action against Iraq - has been put beyond any doubt by the revelations last week in Philippe Sands's account of the process by which that advice was treated after it was given.

The already overwhelming case for the publication of the Attorney General's advice of 7 March 2003 - 12 days before British troops went into action against Iraq - has been put beyond any doubt by the revelations last week in Philippe Sands's account of the process by which that advice was treated after it was given.

It is not denied that the Attorney General provided a 13-page opinion on 7 March in which he acknowledged that military action against Iraq could be illegal without a second UN resolution, nor that the Government took steps to put together a legal team to prepare for possible international litigation. Elizabeth Wilmshurst, deputy legal adviser in the Foreign Office, resigned because she thought that military action was illegal.

In the debate on 17 and 18 March which ended in parliamentary approval for military action, the question of legality was in the air. It was most certainly in the mind of the chief of the defence staff. It would become for some, a matter of life and death. How, then, could an apparent change of mind not be the result of a formal process?

Why did the Attorney General attend a meeting with Lord Falconer, a QC eminent enough to become Lord Chancellor, and Baroness Morgan, then a Cabinet Office minister, on 13 March? Who instigated that meeting - Mr Blair? Why were no minutes apparently kept? Lord Falconer and Lady Morgan remain close confidants of the Prime Minister. When was he apprised of its results?

What exactly is the position over the parliamentary answer given in the House of Lords on 17 March, the first day of the two-day debate in the House of Commons notable for the Prime Minister's breath-taking performance? Was it drawn up by someone other than the Attorney General or his department? Was it drawn up in the Home or the Cabinet Office? The answer was undoubtedly influential in the debate and in the vote that gave the Government the backing it required. The Attorney General's view, as reflected in the motion, was that military action was legal.

Does any of this matter? Yes, because legality matters. When the Secretary General of the United Nations described the military action which we took as "illegal", we have an obligation to examine both the substance of the advice and the process that accompanied it.

The only possible justification for anything other than full disclosure now is the Government's claim that the public interest would not be served by the legal advice given to ministers being in the public domain. But are we not entitled to say that the public interest cannot be determined at the whim of the Government?

These matters are important too because they throw into sharp focus the role of the Attorney General as government minister, legal adviser and prosecutor. He denies that his original advice was modified by meeting Lord Falconer and Lady Morgan, but should he or any successor ever be put in a position where such allegations can arise? In advising about such matters, should not law officers be in a position of independence, serving the interests of parliament, not government? It might mean throwing away centuries of tradition, but that has never bothered New Labour. Would it not be worth it to ensure that a British Government never again embarked on an illegal military venture?

Sir Menzies Campbell is the Liberal Democrats' foreign affairs spokesman

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales and Account Manager - OTE £80,000+

£40000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Ashdown Group: Junior Web Developer - Kent - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Junior Web Developer - ne...

Recruitment Genius: Production Team Leader / Chargehand

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A vacancy has arisen for a Chargehand to join ...

Ashdown Group: Client Services Manager - Relationship Management - London

£30000 - £32000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, int...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Amjad Bashir said Ukip had become a 'party of ruthless self-interest'  

Ukip on the ropes? Voters don’t think so

Stefano Hatfield
'One minute he cares desperately about his precious things, the next he can’t remember them'  

I repeat things over and over in the hope they’ll stay with him

Rebecca Armstrong
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project