Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair cannot be prosecuted for war crimes, the High Court has ruled. Following a legal action brought by a former Iraqi general, two senior judges have ruled that Blair – whose tenure as Premier came to be defined by the military action in Iraq – had not done anything that could see him prosecuted under the law of England and Wales.
While recognizing that a crime of “aggression” recently incorporated into international law may have covered the decision to send forces into Iraq on shaky evidence, the judges highlighted the fact that it may not be applied retroactively; and so, as former PM Blair took the decision in 2003, there is felt to be no avenue for prosecution there either.
The general bringing the case, Abdulwaheed al-Rabbat, does not possess a passport and could not travel to London for the hearing but according to the Guardian, his representative, solicitor Imran Khan, said the following.
“[He] is extremely disappointed with the judgment of the high court in London which brings to an end the hope of prosecuting Tony Blair, Jack Straw and Peter Goldsmith for the crime of aggression in invading Iraq in 2003.”
The prosecution was brought in the aftermath of last year’s report on the war by Sir John Chilcot. Following an inquiry that ran for over seven years, the report found that efforts to establish a legal basis for Britain declaring war on Iraq were “far from satisfactory,” that Iraq had not posed an immediate threat to the West and that reports of Saddam Hussein’s regime possessing weapons of mass destruction were “presented with unwarranted certainty.”
Quoted in the Telegraph, representing General al-Rabbat at the hearing, eminent QC Michael Mansfield said the following of the relevant paragraph in the report.
“Nothing could be more emphatic than this evidence. It does not say there was an unlawful war or crime of aggression.”
“It doesn’t need to because the criteria are arguably all there in that paragraph.”
While the inquiry represented a blow to Blair, who left office in 2007 after 10 years as Prime Minister, and some measure of vindication to his detractors, it would now seem that any prospect of a successful prosecution has vanished. The former Labour leader has not, at present, issued any comment following this case.
It remains theoretically possible for the UK Government to make changes to the law, incorporating the international crime of aggression and even, potentially, making it retroactive. This, however, would seem to have little to no chance of passing through both chambers of Parliament, not least as it could present an obstacle to military deployments going forward and open up future Prime Ministers to similar proceedings.
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