CND asks court to tie attack to new UN resolution

David Pallister
Tuesday December 10, 2002
The Guardian

The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament yesterday began an unprecedented action in the high court which seeks a judicial declaration that it would be unlawful for Britain to go to war with Iraq without a new, explicit UN resolution.

The preliminary hearing for permission to go ahead with the action is the first time a government has been challenged in the courts over the possibility of a declaration of war.

Rabinder Singh QC, for CND, said that UN security council resolution 1441 of November 8 set out Saddam Hussein's disarmament obligations, but did not authorise the use of armed force if it was breached.

The application named the prime minister as well as the foreign secretary Jack Straw and the defence secretary Geoff Hoon as defendants.

Before Lord Justice Simon Brown, sitting with Mr Justice Maurice Kay and Mr Justice Richards, Mr Singh urged the court to reject the government's claim that it had no power to hear the challenge, that CND lacked standing to bring the case, and that the application was "premature".

Mr Singh said: "There is every reason why the court should grant a declaration as to the meaning of resolution 1441 now. If there is a war against Iraq without a fresh resolution and it subsequently turns out that in law there should not have been one, it will literally be too late."

He rejected the government's position that CND was trying to "dictate the conduct of foreign policy". All it was seeking was a legal interpretation of international law.

Two of the judges ruled last week that the exceptional nature of the case justified their making an order that, if CND loses, it would have to find a maximum of #25,000 in costs.

Outside court, the veteran former Labour MP Tony Benn said: "This has to be done because a world without international law would be back to the jungle. We simply can't allow that to happen. If there is a victory in this one it would really change the course of British politics."

Mr Singh argued that there was a "general principle of international law" prohibiting force unless it was in self-defence or specifically authorised by the security council. Neither of those exceptions to the principle applied. Yet Mr Straw and Mr Hoon had both made statements which suggested that Britain would act without a new UN mandate.

In its defence, the government will argue that it has deliberately refused to define its legal position because of the "highly sensitive issues concerning the international relations of the UK".

The case continues.