Bid to prosecute Blair over Iraq ‘to be blocked’

17 Apr

Attorney General Jeremy Wright, who is a Cabinet minister, is reported to have formally asked to join the hearing and for the bid to prosecute Mr Blair and his senior ministers to be thrown out.

The private prosecution, based on last year’s Chilcot Inquiry report, is being brought by a former chief of staff of the Iraqi Army, General Abdul-Wahid Shannan ar-Ribat.

It seeks to prosecute the former prime minister, his then foreign secretary Jack Straw and the attorney general at the time, Lord Goldsmith, for the crime of “aggression”, according to legal papers seen by The Guardian newspaper.

His lawyers are seeking a fresh hearing after a judge ruled last year that Mr Blair had immunity from a criminal charge and that bringing a prosecution could “involve details being disclosed under the Official Secrets Act”, according to the documents.

Attorney General Jeremy Wright QC outside The Supreme Court in London
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Attorney General Jeremy Wright is said to believe the case is ‘hopeless’

Mr Wright, who is supported by the three former Labour figures, is said to believe the case is “hopeless” because the crime of aggression does not exist in English law, although it does exist in international law.

A spokesman for his office said: “It is 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 issues about the scope of the criminal law.”

The case relates to the 2003 war, which the Chilcot report found was not a last resort after all peaceful options had been exhausted, and that the case for weapons of mass destruction was exaggerated.

Sir John Chilcot’s report did not rule on the legality of the war, but families of some of the soldiers also called at the time of his report last summer for Mr Blair to face criminal charges.

Imran Khan, for General Ribat – who served until 2003 under Saddam Hussein and is understood to live in exile – said his client was “baffled as to why it is that despite the Chilcot report making it very clear that the war was illegal, attempts are below made to prevent those responsible from entering a court, let alone being prosecuted for what they did”.

George W Bush and Tony Blair
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Mr Blair’s support of George Bush over Iraq dominated his later years as OM

Mr Khan added: “I really don’t think it’s a matter for the Attorney General. It sounds a rather defensive approach, one that wants to nip it in the bud, but it’s a bit disingenuous as it should be left to the court to decide.

“It sounds like we’re on to something here, otherwise why would the Attorney General want to get involved at this early stage?”

An application was made to Westminster Magistrates’ court in November last year for a summons to be issued against Mr Blair.

But it was refused by district judge Michael Snow, who said: “Implied immunity as former head of state and government ministers, therefore offence not made out.

“Allegations involve potential details being disclosed under the Official Secrets Act for which attorney general and director of public prosecutions consent are required”, the newspaper reported.

General Ribat’s legal team, including Michael Mansfield QC, believe the judge was wrong to say the three senior ministers could not be prosecuted and that there are “overwhelming grounds” to challenge the decision.

In his pleading, Mr Wright said he wanted Parliament, not the courts, to make criminal laws and believes “the basis on which this claim for judicial review is mounted is hopeless”.

Opponents of Mr Blair – including Alex Salmond and Jeremy Corbyn when he was a backbencher – have in previous years called for him to be put on trial for war crimes.

But the International Criminal Court does not rule on the decision to launch a conflict, only decisions made on the battlefield.

The court in The Hague has said the decision by the UK to go to war is “outside the court’s jurisdiction”.

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