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Last Updated: Sunday, 29 February, 2004, 11:13 GMT
Iraq war legal pressure denied
British forces in Basra
A Downing Street spokesman said Lord Goldsmith stood by his legal advice
The government has denied claims that British military chiefs put pressure on the attorney general to strengthen his advice on the legality of war in Iraq.

Sunday newspapers reported that Lord Goldsmith firmed up his legal opinion because of concern troops could be prosecuted for fighting an illegal war.

But speaking on GMTV, Commons leader Peter Hain denied the claims.

"We have a fog of fabrication and allegation not backed up by any evidence at all," he said.

"I think it is a deliberate effort to refocus from the most successful government and prime minister in living memory and to try to sidetrack everyone into what I think has become a very old story."

Full disclosure

I think this poison needs to be let out of the system and I think publishing Lord Goldsmith's advice would let it out of the system
John Major

But on the BBC's Breakfast with Frost former prime minister John Major said it would be in Tony Blair's interest to end "damaging speculation" about the attorney general's advice.

He said: "I cannot see any credible or logical reason why - given the circumstances as they now are, given the fact that they have already published a summary of the opinion, given the fact that there is no doubt Lord Goldsmith produced such an opinion - I cannot see at all why that should not now be published.

"I think this poison needs to be let out of the system and I think publishing Lord Goldsmith's advice would let it out of the system.

Speaking on the same programme, former foreign secretary Robin Cook - who resigned over the Iraq war - said Tony Blair would not have gone to war if he had not believed it was justified in international law.

UK troops during fighting around Basra
Military chiefs were concerned troops could be prosecuted for war crimes
But he said the attorney general's opinion was based on the necessity of disarming Saddam Hussein of weapons of mass destruction.

"I do think that does raise two questions; first of all what was the evidence given to the attorney general that convinced him that those weapons - that don't exist - were actually there; and secondly, would the attorney general now give the same opinion given that he now knows those weapons don't exist.

"I do think there is an obligation now on the government and the attorney general to satisfy the very real public debate on this point."

Mr Cook said convention prevented the full publication of Lord Goldsmith's advice but suggested the attorney general give a lecture explaining the justification for war.

Gun controversy

The newspaper reports alleging Lord Goldsmith was pressured to change his advice are based on unpublished legal documents from the case of the former intelligence officer Katharine Gun.

She was accused of breaking the Official Secrets Act, but the case against her was dropped last week.

Lord Goldsmith strongly denied the case was dropped because her lawyers had asked to see the full legal advice behind his decision that the war was lawful.

Disclosing it to Mrs Gun's legal team could have led to the government facing fresh public scrutiny of the case for war, but withholding it would have allowed Mrs Gun to argue she could not receive a fair trial.

Lord Goldsmith's advice has never been published and there are no plans to release it "because of the long-standing convention that advice from government law officers is not disclosed," a Downing Street spokesman said.

He added that Lord Goldsmith stood by his legal advice which was "right then and it is right now".

The BBC's John Andrews
"This will increase the pressure on the government to present the full legal advice for going to war"

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