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

Database Administrator

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: The role could involve w...

Science Teacher

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Qualified secondary s...

Deputy Head of Science

£22000 - £36000 per annum + MPR / UPR: Randstad Education Southampton: Our cli...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £35000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Nigel Farage has urged supporters to buy Mike Read's Ukip Calypso song and push it up to the No 1 spot  

My limerick response to Mike Read’s Ukip Calypso

Simon Kelner
The number of ring ouzels have seen a 30 per cent decline in the last 10 years  

How the sight of flocks of ring ouzels helps to turn autumn into the new spring

Michael McCarthy
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London