Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Law Lords reject inquiry bid

Law lords reject mothers' bid to force Iraq inquiry

Peter Walker and agencies

Wednesday April 9 2008

The law lords today dismissed an attempt by the mothers of two soldiers killed in Iraq to force the government to hold a public inquiry into the war.

The panel of nine lords agreed unanimously to rule against the appeal, lodged on behalf of Beverley Clarke and Rose Gentle.

However, one of the panel cast considerable doubt on the government's arguments as to why the March 2003 invasion was legal - the issue at the centre of the case.

Baroness Hale said she found the legal advice given to the government at the time by then-attorney general Lord Goldsmith "very far from [being] clear and unambiguous". She was ruling against the case "with sorrow", she added.

The case was based around whether the government was right to send troops to war without a new UN security council resolution.

Ahead of the invasion, Goldsmith advised the government that UN resolution 678, passed by the security council in 1990, before the first Gulf war, was still in force and justified military action.

Hale, while ruling that the decision to deny a public inquiry was correct, said that a state sending troops to war had a "duty to its soldiers to ensure that those orders are lawful".

If the invasion decision had been unambiguously lawful, Clarke and Gentle would have "some comfort to know that their sons had died in a just cause," she said.

"If it was not, there might at least be some public acknowledgement and attribution of responsibility and lessons learned for the future.

"If my child had died in this way, that is exactly what I would want. I would want to feel that she had died fighting for a just cause, that she had not been sent to fight a battle which should never have been fought at all, and that if she had then someone might be called to account."

Gentle, whose son, Gordon, died in June 2004 in a roadside bomb attack in Basra, said she was "bitterly disappointed" at the law lords' ruling.

"Only Baroness Hale - a woman - has had the decency to even consider how my family and I feel that Gordon was killed, and we don't even have the comfort of knowing that he died fighting for a just cause," she said.

"I will never accept that Gordon did die for a just cause and I will never stop fighting for those responsible to be held to account."

The case brought by Gentle and Clarke, whose son David died in March 2003 in a "friendly fire" incident west of Basra, challenged an appeal court ruling in December 2006.

This ruling stated the government was not under an implied obligation to order an independent inquiry under article two of the European convention on human rights, which protects the "right to life".

Lawyers for the mothers said a government promise to hold an inquiry "when the time is right" was not good enough.

At a hearing in February, the lawyers argued the Blair government breached its duty to the armed forces by failing to ensure in advance that the invasion was lawful and justified.

At the centre of the argument was the families' demand for an explanation of how 13 pages of "equivocal" advice from Goldsmith on March 7 2003 was reduced within 10 days to one page of completely unequivocal advice that an invasion would be legal.

The mothers' lawyers argued it had become clear the legal advice received by the government indicated strongly the invasion would not be lawful without another resolution from the UN security council.

The families' solicitor, Phil Shiner, complained after today's ruling that the lords had "taken a very narrow approach" to the case.

"Ever since the hearing in mid-February, there have been more damaging disclosures which all support our case that the invasion of Iraq did not have a shred of legality," he said.

"It is common ground that my clients are entitled to an inquiry that has to look at the broad circumstances of the deaths, and that the inquests could not possibly look at the invasion question."