Judges reject Iraqi general’s attempt to prosecute Tony Blair

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Aug 01, 2017
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Tony Blair was accused of the crime of aggression, but there is no such crime under the law of England and Wales

Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

Two High Court judges have blocked a bid by a former chief of staff of the Iraqi army to bring a private prosecution against Tony Blair over the Iraq war.

General Abdul Wahed Shannan Al Rabbat accused Mr Blair of committing a “crime of aggression” while he was prime minister by invading Iraq in 2003 to overthrow President Saddam Hussein. His lawyers asked the High Court in London for permission to seek judicial review in an attempt to get the Supreme Court to overturn a ruling by the House of Lords in 2006 that there is no such crime under the law of England and Wales.

Yesterday morning, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, the lord chief justice, and Mr Justice Ouseley dismissed the general’s application, saying there was “no prospect” of the case succeeding.

The general, who lives in Muscat, Oman, and does not possess a passport and cannot travel to the UK, wanted to prosecute Blair and two other key ministers at the time — Jack Straw, then foreign secretary, and Lord Goldsmith, the attorney-general. Westminster magistrates’ court refused to issue summonses in November last year on the grounds that the former ministers had immunity from legal action, and in any event Jeremy Wright, QC, the present attorney-general, would have had to give consent.

Wright intervened in the case and his legal team urged Lord Thomas to block the general’s legal challenge on the grounds that it was “hopeless” and unarguable because the crime of aggression is not recognised in English law. In 2006, the Supreme Court’s predecessor, the judicial committee of the House of Lords, decided in R v Jones, which also concerned the Iraq war, that although there was a crime of aggression under customary international law, there was no such crime under English law.

At the High Court yesterday, Michael Mansfield, QC, appearing for Al Rabbat, argued that the Jones case was wrongly decided and permission should be given to allow the case to be re-argued before the Supreme Court. But the High Court ruled: “In our opinion there is no prospect of the Supreme Court holding that the decision in Jones was wrong or the reasoning no longer applicable.”

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