The Attorney General is delaying giving the public information about the legality of the UK’s nuclear defence policy. The A-G (and Mrs May) would prefer that the public do not know that simply planning to use Trident is illegal. We want this 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 and Peace (INLAP) are running a campaign called Public Interest Case Against Trident (PICAT – see its website http://picat.online). PICAT members have applied to their local magistrates courts to prosecute the office of the Secretary for Defence (and 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 Moscow.
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. The public is probably unaware that planning to commit a war crime is a war crime in itself.
However, before the case can commence it requires the consent of the Attorney General. The A-G was first asked to give his consent on 20 February 2016 – nearly 15 months ago. The A-G responded by asking for more and more information, the last of which was submitted to him on 3 February 2017. On 22 May 2017 the A-G advised that it is taking him time to review all of the information and it will not be possible for him to advise his decision just yet.
The A-G’s decision will no doubt generate publicity that the Government would want to avoid during the election, particularly 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. We believe that publicity about the A-G’s decision would have an influence on the election and that he should make it available now.
The A-G does not have a valid reason to delay the giving of his decision. As recently as the end of last month Mr Justice Garnham said in the High Court, when ordering the Secretary of State for the Environment to publish the Government’s long overdue 2015 NO2 reduction Air Quality Plan, that of the so-called convention of pre-election “purdah”:
Purdah does not amend duties imposed on ministers by statute. It does not provide ministers with a defence to proceedings in private or public law. What is set out by the Cabinet Office in the guidance is not law, it is convention. Ordinarily such convention must give way to a duty under statute or an order of the court.
The solemn obligation imposed on the A-G to decide whether or not to consent to our prosecution is indeed one imposed on him by statute (s.53(3) ICC Act 2001). If the A-G continues to withhold his decision PICAT’s lawyers will apply for a judicial review to compel the A-G to reach a decision forthwith, in compliance with the statutory duty placed upon him to do so.
In the mean time we ask you to contact the A-G and ask him to explain his reason for delaying his decision. We think that the A-G should be held to account by the media for his failure to act in accordance with his duty. We would also like you to bring the information raised in this Press Release to the public’s attention.
For more information please contact Angie Zelter on 01547-520929 or firstname.lastname@example.org.