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Last Updated: Friday, 14 October 2005, 08:22 GMT 09:22 UK
British QC asked to defend Saddam
Anthony Scrivener QC
Mr Scrivener is no stranger to high profile cases
A UK lawyer has been approached by Saddam Hussein's legal team about helping to defend the ex-Iraqi leader.

Anthony Scrivener QC would lead a team challenging the lawfulness of the tribunal, in which Saddam is to face mass murder charges.

He would only take on the job if Saddam's people come back to him and "the circumstances are right", said chambers senior clerk Martin Hart.

Saddam's Iraqi-run trial is due to start at a secret location next week.

Mr Scrivener helped free the Guildford Four in 1989 and has also defended Sion Jenkins and Norfolk farmer Tony Martin.

Saddam's lawyers have attacked the legitimacy of the tribunal and say they do not know all the charges.

Chief judge Raed Juhi has said he hopes the proceedings will be televised.

A fundamental part of justice is to ensure there is a fair trial - that is not happening
Defence lawyer Abdel Haq Alani

Human rights lawyer Geoffrey Bindman said Mr Scrivener's involvement would help to avoid the trial "descending into farce".

"If this is not to become a mockery, [it is important] that there are proper lawyers and good lawyers on the defence side, who can help to make it into a fair process," he said.

Mr Hart said: "Mr Scrivener has been approached by the people involved in the case but it is wrong to say that he has been instructed on the case.

"I don't know how many other people have been approached.

"He is not in a position to make a decision at this stage. It can only come to fruition through the fullness of time, if (Saddam's) people come back to him and the circumstances are right, and nothing in the case fails to meet other obligations a barrister must make."

Immunity claim

Abdel Haq Alani, the Iraqi-born barrister who has assembled the defence team, told the BBC's Newsnight programme the Iraqi Special Tribunal where the trial is due to start on 19 October was illegal.

"It was drafted by an occupying power. It has no right under international law to change the legal system of the occupied land," he said.

The only charges so far detailed against Saddam and seven associates relate to 143 executions in the Shia village of Dujail in 1982, which followed a failed assassination attempt on the leader.

Newsnight was shown the original confirmation of death sentences signed by Saddam.

Unreadable

But the defence will argue that the people executed had been convicted properly and sentenced to death by the courts and that the former Iraqi leader merely confirmed those executions.

It is my legal and moral responsibility to ensure that justice is done
Abdel Haq Alani

It also claims the former leader should have sovereign immunity, like other heads of state including the Queen.

The defence team says it has just received an 800-page bundle outlining the prosecution case but that many pages are unreadable.

It also says the US is running the trial - Newsnight was shown letters to and from Captain Mike McCoy, of the US Defence Department, who the lawyers say is their only channel to their client.

Just one defence lawyer, Khalil Dulaimi, has been allowed to meet Saddam Hussein, they say.

Mr Alani told Newsnight: "It is my legal and moral responsibility to ensure that justice is done and a fundamental part of justice is to ensure there is a fair trial - that, I think, is not happening in Iraq now."

Kuwait occupation

UK lawyer Geoffrey Robertson QC, who has helped train the Iraqi judges, told Newsnight they would rather the trial was held in either the Hague or Jordan.

"I think they fear that it will be criticised around the world if they do not have the support of independent jurists," Mr Robertson said.

Saddam Hussein has been accused of killing thousands in chemical gas attacks on Iraq's Kurdish minority during the 1980s, and of brutal reprisals against Shia Muslims following a 1991 uprising.

He could also be charged with crimes committed by his army during its brief occupation of Kuwait in the early 1990s.

This report was shown on Newsnight on Thursday 13 October and can be seen again via the media link at the top right of this page.


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