Attorney General tries to block bid to prosecute Tony Blair over Iraq War

Ian Drury — Daily Mail April 16, 2017

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Britain’s top law officer has intervened to try to stop an attempt to haul Tony Blair to court over the Iraq War.

Attorney General Jeremy Wright has formally asked for the bid to prosecute Mr Blair to be rejected.

The private case is being brought by General Abdul-Wahid Shannan ar-Ribat, former chief of staff of the Iraqi army.

He wants the former Labour prime minister to be convicted of the crime of ‘aggression’ for taking part, alongside the US, in the invasion of his country under the false pretext that Saddam Hussein’s regime harboured weapons of mass destruction.

Mr Ribat, who is now living in exile, also wants then foreign secretary Jack Straw and Lord Goldsmith, the attorney general at the time, to be tried in a British court.

A judge ruled last November that Mr Blair had ‘immunity’ from criminal prosecution over the 2003 conflict and that any case could ‘involve details being disclosed under the Official Secrets Act.’

Mr Ribat is now seeking a judicial review of district judge Michael Snow’s decision.

But Attorney General Mr Wright, a Tory MP, has formally asked to join future hearings and for the bid to prosecute to be rejected.

He claims the case is ‘hopeless’, partly because the crime of aggression does not exist in English law. This position has been backed by the law lords.

But that argument appears to be undermined in a document written by Lord Goldsmith himself.

Lord Goldsmith

Lord Goldsmith. Click to enlarge

In his 2003 memo on the legality of the Iraq war, Lord Goldsmith appeared to concede the key point of those now seeking his prosecution.

He wrote: ‘Aggression is a crime under customary international law which automatically forms part of domestic law.’

In papers submitted to the court, Mr Wright said it was for Parliament to decide what counts as a criminal offence in the UK, not the courts.

Mr Ribat is basing his private prosecution on Sir John Chilcot’s damning 2.6million¬word report, which last year blasted Mr Blair for rushing to war on the back of flawed intelligence, and failing to plan for the aftermath. The conflict cost the lives of 179 British troops.

Mr Ribat’s lawyer Imran Khan said: ‘My client wants those responsible held to account and prosecuted using the full force of the law.

‘He is baffled as to why it is that despite the Chilcot report making it very clear that the war was illegal, attempts are now being made to prevent those responsible from entering a court, let alone being prosecuted.’

In their pleading for the private prosecution, Mr Ribat’s lawyers add: ‘If ever there was a case which required the actions of public officials to account for their alleged criminality, we cannot conceive of any better one than this.

‘There is no doubt that there is significant public interest in these present proceedings and there should have been the concomitant application of the law to all decisions relating to it by the district judge. It would appear that there was not.’

A spokesman for Mr Wright said: ‘It’s not unusual for the attorney general to intervene in cases in order to represent the public interest. He has sought to intervene in this case because it raises important issues about the scope of the criminal law.’

Separately, barristers working for bereaved relatives of British troops killed in the conflict have concluded there is a strong case Mr Blair misled Parliament to justify the invasion.

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