Government forced to disclose more details of Iraq legal advice

The government has been forced by Information Commissioner Richard
Thomas to disclose more details of the Attorney General's advice to
Tony Blair over the legality of the Iraq war.

This follows appeals by
17 different people, including a number of journalists, who had all used the Freedom of Information Act to
ask for the advice given by Attorney General Lord Goldsmith to Blair in
March 2003.

The legal advice was among the first requests made under the FOI Act when it became law in January 2005.

This is the first time the Information Commissioner has issued an enforcement notice against the government.

Much
of the legal advice, which Lord Goldsmith (pictured) presented to the government
on 7 March 2003, was released by the government last April following a
partial leak. While ruling that publication had gone "a considerable
way to meet the disclosure requirement", Thomas also ruled that some
additional material should be released. Thomas has required the LSLO to
publish more details of the "material that led to or supported" the
views made public by the Attorney General in a statement to the House
of Lords on 17 March 2003.

In a statement released today,
Thomas said: "As the government chose to outline an unequivocal legal
position, on such a critical issue at such a critical time, the balance
of the public interest calls for disclosure of the recorded information
which lay behind those views. By this means the public can better
understand the background and rationale behind that published Statement
and the extent to which reliance upon those final conclusions was in
fact justified."

Goldsmith's department is not, however, required
to disclose any "information which was preliminary, provisional or
tentative or which may reveal legal risks, reservations or possible
counter-argument."

Because the exempt and non-exempt material is so heavily interwoven in the original documents, Thomas directed the government to issue a disclosure statement including only those items which he had ruled should be released. This disclosure statement was published on the ICO web site today.

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