The thought receptacle

Stephen's mental dustbin

Thu, 22 Jul 2010

Law or logic (but not both)

Nick Clegg has got himself into trouble by claiming that the Iraq war was illegal. Yet again, I am appalled at the lack of rational thought to be found among our politicians, journalists and, in this case, lawyers.

Whether the Iraq war was or was not legal is not a matter over which Mr Clegg has any influence. Perhaps the war was legal, in which case there is no problem with what he said. Perhaps it wasn't, in which case he misspoke. The interesting case seems to be this: perhaps it is not yet known whether the war was illegal. This seems to be the consensus. But so what? If the legality of the war is not yet known, then it was clearly wrong for Clegg to claim its illegality as a matter of fact (which, implicitly, he did). So, the bottom line is that Clegg has made an erroneous claim when speaking in his official capacity. No doubt, ministers can be relied upon to occasionally do such things.

The Guardian claims that “in such a formal setting [Clegg's words] could increase the chances of charges against Britain in international courts”. If so, then the courts are truly bonkers. How on Earth does an erroneous statement by a minister suddenly make charges more appropriate?

The article proceeds to quote Philippe Sands, who is apparently a Professor of Law at University College London, as saying that “ public statement by a government minister in parliament as to the legal situation would be a statement that an international court would be interested in, in forming a view as to whether or not the war was lawful.” So, the legality of the war is not just undecided, but depends on what some minister, whose government was formed years after the war began and ended, and had no part in either of those events? In other words, its legality can be changed retroactively, and simply by the mistaken statements of politicians? This is clearly what Sands is saying.

If he's right, I despair for the world. Even if he's not, I still despair. It's bad enough that the legal system is so messed up, but the politicians and journalists are also culpable: why did they not highlight the central insanity behind this whole non-story? I read the Telegraph article also, and it was just as bad as the Guardian's. Both the journalists and the politicians currently seem preoccupied with the question of whether or not Clegg was “speaking in a personal capacity”, which is simply irrelevant, except perhaps for the style of ticking-off that Clegg should receive behind the scenes. Whether he was speaking personally or officially, he simply made a false statement. Beyond that, it the statement is of no logical consequence. I really hope the same same will be true of its legal consequence.

[/all] permanent link


Powered by blosxom

validate this page