Page last updated at 15:32 GMT, Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Iraq: Jack Straw defiant over ignoring legal advice

Jack Straw
Jack Straw told legal advisers international law was 'uncertain'

Justice Secretary Jack Straw has defended his decision to reject advice from senior government legal officers in the run up to the Iraq war.

Mr Straw said the legal decision was responsibility of the attorney general at the time, Lord Goldsmith.

Mr Straw told the Iraq inquiry last week how he had agonised over going to war when he was foreign secretary.

But the top Foreign Office law adviser at the time said on Tuesday Mr Straw had ignored advice the war was illegal.

Defending his actions, the Justice Secretary told BBC News: "There were two separate issues here. They were related. One was the issue of legal decisions about going to war and that was going to be a matter for the attorney general.

"The second issue was whether it was appropriate to to take military action and on that for sure, as I told the Chilcot inquiry last week, I was reluctant but in the event I made my decision and I stand by it."

'Extremely happy'

Mr Straw said there had been "no ignorance" of the opinions of senior Foreign Office lawyers.

I'm confident with the way I have operated as a minister over the last 12-and-a-half-years
Justice Secretary Jack Straw

Instead there were "different views" on the legality of the invasion, he said, and the ultimate decision rested with Attorney General Lord Goldsmith.

"I always take advice, but ministers have to decide," he said.

He added: "I'm confident with the way I have operated as a minister over the last 12-and-a-half years."

Mr Straw said he would be "extremely happy" to explain his role when he returns to the Chilcot inquiry on 8 February.

On Tuesday, Sir Michael Wood, the Foreign Office's most senior legal adviser, said Mr Straw repeatedly dismissed his warnings that the invasion breached international law.

'Moral dilemma'

Sir Michael said he told Mr Straw military action without express UN backing would amount "to a crime of aggression".

But Mr Straw, who was then foreign secretary, told Sir Michael that international law was "an uncertain field" and opinions were divided over the issue, he added.

He said Mr Straw had told him he was being "dogmatic" when he raised his concerns at a face-to-face meeting five months before the war.

Sir Michael said Mr Straw had also told him at that he had "often been advised things were unlawful and gone ahead anyway and won in the courts" when he was Home Secretary.

Sir Michael's deputy at the Foreign Office legal department, Elizabeth Wilmshurst, the only civil servant to resign over the Iraq war, told the inquiry the legal process leading up to the invasion had been "lamentable".

Mr Straw told the inquiry last week that his decision to back the war was the "most difficult" of his career, describing it as a "profoundly difficult political and moral dilemma".

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