News In Focus
Release ordered of Cabinet papers on Iraq war
The UK Government has been ordered to release the minutes of two Cabinet meetings in March 2003 concerning the decision to invade Iraq.
Yesterday's ruling by the Information Tribunal upheld the decision of Information Commissioner Richard Thomas, following a freedom of information request, that the public interest in disclosing the minutes outweighed the public interest in withholding the infomation.
Campaigners seeking to challenge the legality of the invasion believe the papers could contain vital information. At the first meeting the then Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, advised that an invasion might be illegal without the support of an explicit United Nations resolution. However his final advice delivered at the second meeting was that invasion would be legal due to Saddam Hussein's lack of co-operation with UN weapons inspectors.
The tribunal's decision, by a majority, said this was an "exceptional case" in which the arguments in favour of keeping the formulation of government policy secret and preserving the principle of collective responsibility had been defeated. The decision to commit the armed forces to invade another country was "monentous in its own right, and... its seriousness is increased by the criticisms that have been made of the general decision-making processes in the Cabinet at the time".
Mr Thomas said he was pleased the tribunal had upheld his decision and that disclosing the minutes would help the public to understand the decision more fully.
The Government has 28 days to appeal to the High Court. It is thought that further legal proceedings are almost certain before the Cabinet papers are made public. The Government also has power under the UK Freedom of Information Act 2000 to, in effect, veto the ruling by providing a certificate to the Information Commissioner and laying a copy before Parliament.