• Robert Spicer

Chilcot Inquiry

Chilcot Inquiry

Before this Inquiry started its hearings, Public Interest Lawyers commented that the key issues should include the following:

  • Examination of the role of legal advice on the legality of the invasion and the UK’s international human rights obligations.

  • The misleading of the public over prior commitment to regime change.

  • The use of indiscriminate weaponry and tactics, including the targeting of infrastructure, the use of cluster bombs, fuel-air explosives and depleted uranium shells.

  • War crimes.

  • At least 650,000 deaths, four million refugees and the devastation of Iraq.

  • A victim-centred approach must be fundamental.

The Inquiry hearings have been held without taking evidence under oath and have expressly excluded legal consequences. Its function was not to apportion blame.

Matters emerging during the Chilcot Inquiry hearings have included the following:

On November 29, 2009 the Mail on Sunday reported that in July 2002 the Attorney-General wrote to Blair stating that to depose Saddam Hussein would be a blatant breach of international law.

In March 2003 he gave legal backing to the War. The newspaper report suggested duress.

The letter of July 2002 is reported to have contained the following points:

  • The War could not be justified purely on the grounds of regime change

  • It was not self-defence: there was no threat from Iraq

  • Humanitarian intervention was not relevant

  • It was very hard to rely on earlier UN Resolutions.

Elizabeth Wilmshurst, a senior legal adviser at the Foreign Office, told the Inquiry that it was the unanimous view of Foreign Office lawyers that the Iraq War was illegal. She resigned in protest against the invasion. Wilmshurst stated that the invasion was illegal. The rules of international law on the use of force by states are at the heart of international law. Collective security, as opposed to unilateral military action, is a central purpose of the UN Charter. The advice of the FO lawyers was ignored by Ministers.

The Attorney-General changed his opinion after a secret briefing with American government lawyers in February 2003. The Americans told him that “the French” had told them that a second UN Resolution was not needed to sanction the War. This has been denied by “the French”. Britain’s decision to go to war was based on a series of private conversations and anecdotes.

Documents relating to the Attorney-General’s advice on the legality of the war are not to be declassified.

Sir Michael Wood, the chief legal adviser at the Foreign Office, stated that he considered that the use of force against Iraq in March 2003 was contrary to international law. That use of force had not been authorised by the UN Security Council and had no other basis in international law.

The Attorney-General was finally consulted only at the very last minute as the troops were ready to go in.

John Prescott is reported to have commented that intelligence reports at the time were “tittle-tattle” and that his role was to support Blair and the Cabinet.

The inquiry has finished its public hearings and is currently analysing the evidence brought before it and is preparing a draft report.

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