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Goldsmith defends his advice on war in Iraq


By Joshua Rozenberg, Legal Editor
(Filed: 26/05/2005)

The Attorney General yesterday launched a passionate defence of his advice to Tony Blair that the war against Iraq was legally sound.

He dismissed as "fantasy" widespread claims that Government colleagues had "leant on" him to justify their invasion plans.

Breaking his silence on the affair in an interview with The Daily Telegraph, Lord Goldsmith said: "I stand by my conclusion that military action was lawful. That was a judgment I had to reach. I reached it and I stand by it.

"And I want to reject the suggestions that I was leant on, or that this somehow was not my genuine opinion. These suggestions that this was not genuinely my view - these are fantasies and they need to be seen as such."

Lord Goldsmith said he had frequently had to give advice that his clients had not wanted to receive, both as a barrister and as the Government's senior legal adviser for the past four years.

"I would not have hesitated to give negative advice if that had been my conclusion," he said. "I have been a practising lawyer for 30 years. I have been chairman of the Bar. I have chaired international legal organisations. I have been a deputy High Court judge. I was at the height of my profession when I was appointed Attorney General.

"I have always operated on the basis that I do not tell clients just what they would said he had always reached his own decisions. "I was not going to change that or throw that away - and I did not."

He had not spoken on the matter before because he believed that legal advice should remain confidential.

"But given that the advice of March 7 2003, was leaked during the election campaign and given that allegations were made about my professional integrity, I think it is right to refute those."

He believed that people now recognised that there was "a powerful case" for saying that the authority to use force against Iraq given by the United Nations Security Council resolution 678 of 1990 had been revived in 2002 by resolution 1441.

The "revival" argument was soundly based in precedent and had been relied on twice before, he said.

Asked then why the most he had said in his March 7 advice was that "a reasonable case can be made that resolution 1441 is capable in principle of reviving the authorisation in 678 without a further resolution", he said the crucial question was not revival but whether a further Security Council decision was needed.

"What I was saying on March 7 was that there was a reasonable case that there did not need to be a further decision and that that was sufficient justification for military action."

Events then moved on, he said. It became clear that there would not be a second resolution. Non-compliance by Iraq was confirmed. The military and the Civil Service wanted a "yes or no" answer to the question of whether action would be lawful.

"I had to reach a conclusion, having weighed up all the arguments. It could not be slightly lawful: it either was or it wasn't. My conclusion was that it was lawful."

law@telegraph.co.uk