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Goldsmith under pressure from legal profession over impartiality

Legal Affairs Correspondent,Robert Verkaik
Friday 29 April 2005 00:00 BST

The Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, is facing increasing pressure from senior lawyers to justify his change of mind over his advice on the legality of war.

Publication of the full advice yesterday has opened him to criticism that he allowed his opinion to be distorted to serve the Government's case.

A number of leading QCs, some of whom have worked with government ministers, criticised Lord Goldsmith for agreeing to give the Government what is known at the Bar as a "helpful" opinion rather than one that sets out a completely independent legal position.

Anthony Scrivener QC, a former chairman of the Bar, said: "Lawyers quite often change their mind, but when they do they always will provide extremely good justification for doing so. It appears he has given very helpful advice because he has been amenable to pressure."

Peter Carter QC, chairman of the Bar's human rights committee, said publication would "inevitably" lead to calls for Lord Goldsmith's resignation.

But he added: "The question is what happened to change his mind between the date of the advice and the publication of the parliamentary answer. As Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith must not bend to party political pressure so that his advice is no longer independent. However, his get-out may be that his client, the Prime Minister, gave him facts that he had asked for and, because he was his client, he could not question them."

The lawyers argue that the qualifications Lord Goldsmith carefully added to his advice had not been met before the start of the war.

Geoffrey Robertson QC, an expert on international law, described Lord Goldsmith's as a "cautious and conservative opinion which highlights the inadequacy of the Security Council procedures and the difficulties of interpreting resolutions when they do not even keep a transcript of their discussions."

He argues: "The real point that emerges from the opinion is just how hypothetical it all is: how can you talk about a 'law' when there is no court that can enforce it? International criminal law has yet to provide for a crime of aggression, which would enable courts to develop rules about when it is justifiable to go to war without a Security Council mandate."

Rabinder Singh QC, a deputy High Court judge and a member of Matrix Chambers, said: "We can only speculate about what would have happened if the Cabinet or Parliament had been told all this at the time. What we do know is that they were not told this at all. Instead they were given a short statement on 17 March, which was unequivocal that the war would be lawful. It appears that there was no further written advice after 7 March going into detailed analysis."

Even if Lord Goldsmith can show that he discharged his independent duty to advise on the facts and the rule of law, the question remains why his full advice was not circulated to the other cabinet ministers who can also lay claim to the rights of the barrister's client.

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