An increasingly nervy, impulsive, hair-trigger atmosphere surrounds the Chilcot Inquiry and reportage of same, as the media and the ticket-possessing public await Tony Blair’s appearance on Friday. The last few days have offered rich pickings on the legal aspect of the matter. I should say that it used to be one of my (innumerable) gripes against New Labour that there were far too many bloody lawyers sat round its top table. But then I’m not aware that anyone ever claimed these people were any good at being lawyers. (Cherie Blair has her claims in this department, of course, but nobody ever elected her, perhaps to her chagrin.)
What an assured legal performance we have had, though, from Jack Straw! Not just in his testimony to Chilcott but in the documents under discussion, such as his 6-page rejoinder to Lord Goldsmith. The BBC, who nurse a private and wholly personal wound over Iraq, are currently headlining that Straw is ‘defiant over ignored legal advice’ on the illegality of the war, which is, I suppose, one way of saying that Straw considered one piece of advice from the Attorney General to be more salient than another (differing) one from the FO’s man.
Similarly it seems to be headline news to some outlets that Lord Goldsmith ‘changed his mind’ on illegality, or that he had admitted such - something we were aware of, also of Goldsmith’s reasons for same, many moons and Inquiries ago; just as we know the unshakeable anti-war line that he only reviewed his options once the Yanks leaned on him. At any rate Goldsmith put it this way today: the question to his mind was ‘‘Which side of the argument do you want to be on?’ And I took the view I would prefer to be on the side of the argument that a second resolution wasn't necessary.’ That’s politics. As Paul Waugh of the Evening Standard has it, more sceptically than would I:
‘I'm sure many will seize on 'Goldsmith's Law' as proof of his wrong-headed approach to the law: make up your mind first where you want to end up and then design your verdict accordingly. Not exactly what some expect of an Attorney General. But maybe that's unfair, maybe he was simply reflecting the political realities of the consequence of his decision…’
Yesterday the principled Elizabeth Wilmshurst said her piece in cool and calm fashion, and Nick Witchell on the BBC 10 O’Clock News made sure we were told that members of the public in the hearing room applauded the end of her testimony. Not to defame these spectators en masse but I suspect a fair few of them are the sort who have made BBC1’s Question Time such a drizzle of loud nonsense whenever Iraq is discussed.
Ms Wilmshurst also got in her shot at Mr Straw and his ‘ignoring’ of the Foreign Office legal view: ‘He’s not an international lawyer.’ So, by implication, he lacks that rigour, that basis on such an universally esteemed and binding body of case law? Sure, Ms Wilmhurst and Sir Michael Wood may have been more fastidiously following the letter of law in making sure their opinions genuflected toward the legally clear primacy of that peculiar body called the UN Security Council - for all that this was to defer to the polluted world of politics. If only the membership of said Council were as pure and rigorous in their legal assessment of a case as Wilmhurst and Wood! But then maybe the proud French former imperium, the wounded and bristling Russian imperium, and the quietly confident Chinese imperium were all entirely principled and law-abiding in their considered opinion that the tyrant Saddam Hussein would not be overthrown by any imperial warmongering US/UK-led coalition, at least not on their watch. Or as Kafka's thuggish doorkeeper tells the Man from the Country who seeks admission to The Law: 'If you are so drawn to it, just try to go in despite my veto. But take note: I am powerful...'
The illustration above comes from the online petition site Ban Blair Baiting.