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Chilcot report creates possibility of legal action against Blair

13th Jul 2016

Sir John Chilcot has called the legal basis for UK military action in Iraq “far from satisfactory” in his investigation into Britain’s involvement in Iraq from 2001 to 2009, opening the way for potential legal claims from families and opposition parties.

Chilcot’s  inquiry delivered a damning verdict on the actions taken by former prime minister Tony Blair’s government before and after the invasion.

Speaking prior to the report’s publication, Chilcot said that  “We have concluded that the UK chose to join the invasion of Iraq before the peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted. Military action at that time was not a last resort.”

He also noted that “policy on Iraq was made on the basis of flawed intelligence and assessments. They were not challenged, and they should have been.”

Section 5 of the report detailed how, in March 2003, the attorney general at the time, Lord Goldsmith, failed to provide the cabinet with written advice which outlined whether the UK had a legal basis to take military action based on United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1441.

The decision focused on whether the failure of Iraq to comply with UNSCR 1441 – a declaration offering Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein a “final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations” – could authorise UK military action without a further resolution of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).

On 7 March, Lord Goldsmith had formally set out the alternative interpretations of resolution 1441, namely that ‘the safest legal course would be to secure a second resolution’, but he accepted a reasonable case for military action existed by reviving a previous resolution that authorised military force (UNSCR 678) without the need for a further resolution.

However, Goldsmith did not provide ministers and senior officials with such information, and later concluded that there was a lawful basis for the use of force without the need for a further resolution beyond resolution 1441, which was approved by Blair.

Chilcot said that Blair’s decision to invade before peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted had undermined the UNSC’s authority.

It is uncertain if legal action will be taken against Blair or the UK government; While the actions would most likely fall under the crime of aggression, the International Criminal Court stated that the crime does not fall within its jurisdiction.