Blair under pressure to release attorney general’s advice

Attorney-General Lord Goldsmith altered his advice over the legality of the Iraq war amid uncertainty in the military, a Labour peer has claimed.

Baroness Helena Kennedy QC yesterday said Lord Goldsmith bowed to pressure from the US ahead of the March war even though the “vast majority” of lawyers thought the conflict without a second UN resolution would be illegal.

Downing Street said Lord Goldsmith’s legal advice was “right then” and “right now”.

Baroness Kennedy said the Attorney-General’s lack of expertise in the field of international law meant he relied on lawyers within the Foreign Office and Professor Christopher Greenwood of the London School of Economics.

“Washington was told by Whitehall that the preponderance of our legal advice was that war would be unlawful if it was not in self defence, if there was not an immediate threat directly to us or no second resolution.

“When they told Washington that their legal advice was suggesting illegality they were told to look for further advice,” said the Labour peer.

Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws demanded the right to examine the legal advice received by the Attorney-General in the months leading up to the war.

Echoing the same demand, environmental pressure group Greenpeace wants access to the advice as 14 of its activists are facing charges over an anti-war protest last year.

The “Marchwood 14” face charges for occupying Army tanks at Southampton. Greenpeace said the action was the only way to protest against the unlawfulness of the war.

Leader of the Commons Peter Hain yesterday hit back at the as yet uncorroborated claims, saying: “We have a fog of fabrication and allegation not backed up by any evidence at all to suggest that the government did anything in an underhand way.”

And he said the government was under no legal bind to release the Attorney-General’s advice, pointing to the long-standing convention that “private” advice from government law officers was seldom disclosed.