Simon Carr:

The Sketch: Legality is what the best lawyer says it is

'Taking instructions from the PM' means the opposite of what it means in normal life

Share
Related Topics

I've consulted enough QCs in my litigious life to know how to find out how good your case is. You brief them with your opponent's case as if it were your own. The advice comes back very unfavourably to your own interest. When you explain the situation, the QC then comes to "the better view" and he gets the business.

Through most of the year before the war, Lord Goldsmith believed a second resolution was needed to legalise war. At the last minute he "considered the true meaning of 1441" and by great good fortune for his client, the Prime Minister, this "better view" provided the justification that was wanted.

Between Resolutions 1441, 687, 678 and 1205 there was enough room to reach any conclusion – and if Lord Goldsmith had been working for Beijing he would doubtless have come to "an even better view".

Roderick Lyne asked what would have happened to Tony Blair if he, the Attorney General, had declared that war would be illegal.

Goldsmith declared that such consequences carried no weight with him. They were not legal questions. The crucial thing was "the correct legal view". Yes, that was the right answer. And who is to say he wasn't telling the truth? You? Me? Prove it.

We can't because we'd need to argue the case, and to do that we'd need words, and we'd also want them to mean certain things. But they won't. They'll mean what Lord Goldsmith wants them to mean.

What does "take instructions from the Prime Minister" mean? The opposite of what the words mean in normal life. Less technically, what does "consider" mean? It seems simple but we have vulgar minds. Goldsmith said: "There were at least three different interpretations of 'We will meet again to consider' – actually, four." And if you threw another £100,000 of legal exegesis at it you could find half a dozen more meanings.

The resolution that the Foreign Office legal head, Sir Michael Wood, said was "clear" was so freaked with ambiguities it could mean what the French or what the US wanted it to mean. Two entirely different things.

When Goldsmith couldn't make the resolution's words mean what he wanted he retired to new ground – the intention of the people who had written them. Private conversations with our negotiators – unwitnessed and unrecorded – persuaded him that the French had been defeated and knew they'd been defeated.

At one moment he's down at an almost quantum level with the wording; the next he's outside the perimeter fence looking in at the compound where the negotiations are taking place. No one has the agility, the scale, the largeness of mind, to follow him from one end of this spectrum to the other.

Legality is what the best lawyer says it is.

simoncarr@sketch.sc

React Now

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

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Election catch-up: I’m not saying the Ed stone is bad – it is so terrible I am lost for words

John Rentoul
 

General Election 2015: The SNP and an SMC (Salmond-Murdoch Conspiracy)

Matthew Norman
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living