Attorney General evades request for courts to judge on legality of Trident

27th May 2017


The Attorney General is withholding information about the legality of the UK’s nuclear defence policy. The Attorney General and Mrs May do not want the public to know that the threat to use Trident is illegal. This issue ought to be brought to the public’s attention before the election. The public can then decide whether supporting a defence policy that is illegal shows Mrs May’s strength, or her disregard for the law.

Trident Ploughshares together with the Institute for Law, Accountability & Peace have organised the Public Interest Case Against Trident (PICAT – see its website PICAT members have applied to magistrates courts1 to prosecute the office of the Secretary of State for Defence along with the Prime Minister and Defence Secretary personally for conspiracy to commit a war crime by planning and maintaining the capability to launch a nuclear attack on targets in and around major population centres.

Such an attack would be a war crime because the civilian death toll, damage to essential civilian resources and long term harm to the natural environment would be wholly disproportionate to the strict military advantage gained. Furthermore, planning to commit a war crime is a war crime in itself. In order to proceed with the case it requires the consent of the Attorney General.

The Attorney General was first asked to give his consent to the 5 combined magistrates court cases on 20 February 2016 – 15 months ago. The Attorney General’s Office kept asking for more information, the last of which was submitted to him on 3 February 2017. On 22 May 2017 the PICAT groups were advised that it will not be possible for him to give his decision until after the election.

The eventual decision on whether the Attorney General will or will not give a decision to allow this public interest case to proceed through the courts will no doubt generate publicity that the Government would want to avoid during the election. This is especially true in view of Mrs May’s decision in February to put nuclear weapons outside the scope of international law, and her refusal to engage with the current UN conference on multilateral nuclear disarmament.

Angie Zelter, co-ordinator of PICAT, said, ‘I believe that if politics were set aside and a court of law allowed to look objectively at the Trident system (including the targeting plans) then it would be quite clear that Trident is illegal and undermines the whole international legal order. It is imperative that the Attorney General gives his consent for these cases to proceed. The UK cannot continue to obfuscate and delay. Let the courts decide.’

For more information please contact Angie Zelter, 01547-520929 or

1 The 5 communities involved in pursuing the public interest case against Trident presented their cases at the following magistrates courts – Sevenoaks, Norwich, Merthyr Tydfil, Haverfordwest, and Llanelli.