A former Iraqi general is challenging a legal ban preventing former UK prime minister Tony Blair facing court over his role in the Iraq War.
Lawyers have told the UK High Court that the former British leader should face legal consequences for the country’s role in the 2003 Iraq conflict, in the opening arguments of an attempt to reverse an order blocking his prosecution.
The bid was launched by former Iraqi army chief Abdulwaheed al-Rabbat, who was able to bring the challenge in the British court system under the European Convention on Human Rights, due to the UK’s previous occupation of Iraq.
He is seeking to prosecute not only Mr Blair, but then-Attorney General Lord Goldsmith and former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw as well.
One of his lawyers, Michael Mansfield QC, says Mr Rabbat was encouraged to launch the bid following the publication of last year’s Chilcot inquiry into the war.
The landmark report seven years in the making found deep flaws in the intelligence, post-war recovery and legal basis for the war itself. Mr Blair has stood by his decision, which has cast a shadow on his political legacy.
In 2004, a parliamentary inquiry was held into Australia's role in the war. Then-Australian prime minister, John Howard, maintains the choice to join the conflict was the right one at the time.
An Australian precedent?
Professor of international law at the Australian National University, Donald Rothwell, said the International Criminal Court has yet to look into the matter.
“This would require the prosecutor of the court to open an investigation into Mr Blair which would of course raise issues about investigations into other leaders…[such as] John Howard”.
Mr Mansfield has told the court, as the UK’s involvement in the war was based on the false belief that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein possessed so-called weapons of mass destruction, his immunity against facing charges should also be removed.
He said the offence of “waging an aggressive war” had effectively been integrated into the British legal system, as a consequence of the Nuremberg war crimes trials. During these trials, lawyers prosecuted Nazi war criminals using this law.
Professor Rothwell said the prosecutors believe the crime of aggression is “a mass atrocity crime, [and] a mass atrocity crime is one for which no one should be able to enjoy immunity”.
He said lawyers want the crime classed as part of “common law”, with British law reflecting international standards.
Judges have given legal teams a week to make additional submissions.
Although the case is currently only going through the British courts, Professor Rothwell said Australia will be keeping an eye on proceedings.
“They could actually create a precedent for the Australian legal system, given that there’s still a close connection between aspects of UK law and Australian law,” he said.
He also believes the outcome of the case could have consequences far beyond Britain’s borders.
“There are some implications arising from these types of prosecutions in terms of immunity for heads of state, former prime ministers, but also the crime of aggression”.
- with wires