Iraq war families win hearing: Legality of invasion to be considered in court

From The Herald (27.07.06)

THE families of four young soldiers killed in Iraq were yesterday granted permission to challenge the government’s refusal to hold a public inquiry into why the UK took part in the war.

But senior appeal court judges who overturned a previous ruling blocking the right to a judicial review over the legality of the conflict also warned it was unlikely that the move “has a real prospect of success”.

The judges added that there were “formidable hurdles in the way of the applicants”, who include Rose Gentle, the Glasgow housewife-turned-campaigner who lost her 19-year-old son Gordon in a roadside bomb attack in Basra in 2004. Lawyers for the government claim it would be “an unwarranted shift of power” for the courts to make pronouncements on the right of an elected government to go to war.

Despite this, Sir Anthony Clarke, the Master of the Rolls, Lord Justice Judge and Lord Justice Dyson, ruled that it was “at least arguable that the question of whether the invasion was lawful ‘ or reasonably thought to be lawful ‘ as a matter of international law is worthy of investigation.”

The three judges said permission to appeal had been given because the case, brought jointly by Mrs Gentle, Beverley Clarke, Susan Smith and Peter Brierly, raised “issues of some general importance”, but warned it was unlikely to trigger a public inquiry.

Phil Shiner, the lawyer acting for the four families, hailed the decision as “a stunning victory” and said the government would have to produce evidence in its defence before a full hearing in the Court of Appeal on November 6. He said it meant the government would also have to explain how 13 pages of heavily qualified advice from Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General, on the legality of going to war turned into a single page of unequivocal advice 10 days later to justify military action.

“That change sent these soldiers to their deaths,” he said. “The evidence to be presented needs to establish once and for all whether the decision to invade was lawful.”

A spokesman for the Attorney General’s office said: “While the government deeply regrets the deaths of members of the armed forces in Iraq, it will continue to argue that . . . issues relating to the use of armed force are fundamentally matters for the elected government to decide and not for determination by the courts.”

Mrs Gentle said: “I am convinced my son died for no good reason, as he should not have been sent to Iraq in the first place. ”

The ruling came as Tony Blair was heckled on the war during a keynote speech on health in Nottingham. He was interrupted by a protester, who stripped off his shirt to reveal the messages on his front and back “Iraq War Still Illegal” and “Impeach Tony Blair”.

As Kirk Jackson, 34, was led away, Mr Blair told him: “One of the great things about this country is it is a democracy and you are entitled to express your view ‘ but I’m also entitled to make my speech.”