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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 June, 2004, 00:18 GMT 01:18 UK
Watchdog backs war advice secrecy
UK troops during fighting around Basra
The government published a summary of Lord Goldsmith's advice
A key watchdog has backed the government's decision not to publish advice by the attorney-general about the legality of war with Iraq.

Despite political pressure, ministers rejected calls to make public Lord Goldsmith's advice opting instead to publish a summary.

The parliamentary ombudsman, Ann Abraham, has now backed that decision.

There was no requirement to publish because of rules aimed at protecting the release of legal advice, she said.

'Lack of understanding'

Ms Abraham said the information was covered by legal professional privilege.

In a separate case Ms Abraham - who is also ombudsman for the NHS - criticised the Department of Health for showing a "basic lack of understanding" of disclosure rules.

That followed a investigation over the past year into complaints the government had wrongly withheld information about a contract awarded for the supply of a stock of smallpox vaccine.

The department had also failed to co-operate with her investigation which had been beset with delays, said Ms Abraham.

'No excuse'

She said there was a basic lack of understanding of the code governing disclosure and expressed concern as to how similar concerns would be dealt with under the Freedom of Information Act.

The row about the non-disclosure of the attorney-general's war advice prompted ex-premier John Major to say there was no excuse for not giving full details.

The Lib Dems, Tories and some anti-war Labour MPs have called for the full advice to be published.

In the past Tony Blair's official spokesman has said: "The attorney-general gave his advice as successive attorneys-general have given their advice.

"It's precisely because of the need to be able to give frank and free advice that the convention has been that such advice is given in private. That's how it operated, that's what happened."

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