Simon Carr: When legal opinion became a political embarrassment

The Sketch

So, to summarise. They fixed the facts, tortured the texts, invented the evidence, blitzed Blix, gelded Goldsmith, framed the French, wrecked Iraq and hanged Hussein.

What energy these people have, what a range of talents, it's hard not to admire them.

We had two interesting witnesses - Michael Wood the legal leader of the Foreign Office and one of his team members.

Elizabeth Wilmshurst is a formidable legal personality projected from remarkable moral structure. When the Attorney gave legal approval for the war she resigned. In civilian terms, there was something heroic about that, something most unusually admirable.

In the year before the war, all the legal advisers at the Foreign Office were of one opinion. This has probably never happened before. In private practice such unanimity constitutes professional malpractice. That is by the way. Going to war without a second UN resolution, all agreed, was illegal.

Every time ministers or officials alluded to regime change, Michael Wood wrote to them pointing out they were wrong. Once he wrote to Jack Straw telling him he was "completely wrong". And "occasionally you'd get the PM saying the wrong thing privately and I'd jump in." There was no deniability for any of them. They can't have liked that, not one bit.

When Wood sent a paper to Number 10 advising on the consequences of an illegal war the response came back, "Why has this been put into writing?"

A pretty straight kind of guy? Bad faith hardly starts to cover it.

The Attorney, it was said, was solid with the Foreign Office position: "I'm sure he was aware and agreed with it." He shared their reservations right up to his final decision ("the better view" as we heard it called).

So, Wood said, because the government knew what the Attorney's view was they didn't ask him for it.

Ms Wilmhurst said it was as though the legal opinion was an impediment, an obstacle. And it was "extraordinary" (in layman's terms, an effing scandal) that the legal OK wasn't sought before troops were deployed.

But life is a journey and with troops poised to invade, Goldsmith came to believe there was no need for a second resolution after all. This realisation came, we were told, through an interesting process. He didn't examine the text of the first resolution (that is, the famous 1441). Instead he talked to the people who negotiated it. By that means, he found out what they'd really intended.

Obviously the French negotiators wouldn't have known what was really intended so he didn't ask them.

He what? No, he didn't ask them.

Best question of the day came from Roderick Lyne: "Should the Attorney give draft advice, thereby opening up a process of negotiation?"

What a polite way of putting it.