By Jon Slattery
Leading civil rights lawyer Helena Kennedy has claimed that Tony Blair’s email comments to an Observer columnist demonstrated "he had forgotten any law he learned".
Baroness Kennedy, giving the James Cameron Memorial lecture at City University, London, also said that "good journalism" is vital to stop the Government taking away hard-won civil liberties on the grounds that it is part of the war on terrorism.
She said of Blair’s exchange with The Observer’s Henry Porter, which went on the paper’s front page last month: "What was clear from his diatribe in The Observer was that he has forgotten any law he learned and does not know what law his Government has made.
"On virtually every single issue he was factually wrong, and most shockingly claimed that the courts could under our Human Rights Act strike down legislation. Which is plain wrong."
Porter was one of the national columnists attacked by Home Secretary Charles Clarke, who slammed his articles as an example of "the pernicious and even dangerous poison now slipping into at least some parts of the media" (PG 28 April).
Kennedy said: "Over the last nine years I have been involved in depressing and wretched disagreements with Government over its retreat from civil liberties.
"This willingness of Tony Blair to abandon legal principle was evident in his decision to spurn international law when he embarked on the Iraq war."
She warned: "The mistake Government ministers so often make is that once in office they think they are ‘the state’ and, since they are all nice folk, any expressions of concern about ‘thin ends of wedges’ are dismissed as intemperate.
"If ministers are reminded of the importance of legislating with one eye to their wing mirrors for what might come into office hereafter, they poohpooh such fears of authoritarianism as liberal delusions."
Patrick Cockburn of The Independent was presented with the James Cameron Memorial Award for 2006 for his coverage of the war in Iraq. Guardian photographer Dan Chung was awarded a special prize for the quality of his press photography over many years.