Judicial review of Britain's role in Iraq granted to families of dead British soldiers

Wednesday, July 26, 2006 at 03:48 PM

Imagine a United States federal court in this day and age ordering that the families of soldiers killed in Iraq have the right to a full judicial hearing on their claim that the United States should be forced to conduct a public inquiry into why the country invaded Iraq.  Done laughing?  That's what the British Court of Appeal just ordered.

The full judicial hearing is scheduled to begin November 6 and last a few days (meaning the U.S. elections will probably be over by the time evidence from the hearing starts to make news).  And the decision today included a pretty strong indication that the families ultimately will fail, and the U.K. will not have to conduct a public inquiry.

Still, it's telling that the British court even ordered the full hearing at a time when U.S. courts seem intent on shielding the Executive from prying eyes on most issues.  And the hearing could be interesting, even if the families lose.  I don't know beans about British law, but I would think that the hearing is going to be similar to a "show cause" hearing, with the families presenting evidence to support the need for a public inquiry, and the government forced to present some evidence that a public inquiry should not be held.

Phil Shiner, the solicitor representing the families, thinks that the hearing will, at a minimum, require that the British government explain why the Attorney General issued a March 7, 2003 opinion on the legality of invading Iraq which was 13 pages long and quite equivocal about the legality, yet within 10 days issued a new, 1-page opinion which unequivocally stated the invasion would be legal.

I'd love to hear that explanation myself.