Peter Goldsmith, Baron Goldsmith

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Lord Goldsmith

Peter Henry Goldsmith, Baron Goldsmith, PC (born January 5, 1950), is the current Attorney General of England and Wales.

Goldsmith was born in Liverpool and educated in law at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge and University College London. He was called to the Bar at Gray's Inn in 1972. He became a Queen's Counsel in 1987 and a Deputy High Court Judge in 1994. He was created a life peer in 1999, as Baron Goldsmith of Allerton in the County of Merseyside. He was appointed Her Majesty's Attorney General in June 2001. One of his first acts was to discuss breaches of the injunction against offenders in the Jamie Bulger murder case. He became a Privy Counsellor in 2002.

The nature of Lord Goldsmith's legal advice to the government over the legality of the 2003 invasion of Iraq was a significant political issue in 2003 and early 2004. The government had turned down repeated calls to break with tradition and have the advice made public. On March 10, 2005, Cabinet Secretary Sir Andrew Turnbull revealed that Goldsmith's final opinion was only one page long, which provoked outrage from opposition Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, as well as from Labour backbenchers who had opposed the war. That issue paled, however, when Lord Goldsmith's long-sought original memo (thirteen pages long) was leaked to the press. It was then officially published on April 28, 2005. The memo warns that the war was quite possibly illegal under both British and international law (contradicting government statements that his advice had been unequivocally favorable) and could face challenges in a number of international courts. It became clear that the full advice had not been shown to the British Cabinet. Lord Goldsmith identified six major concerns about the war, which were:

  • There was a strong legal argument that the United Nations, not Britain, had the authority to determine compliance with resolutions (or lack thereof);
  • Britain may not be able to attack Iraq regardless of the authority of a UN resolution;
  • Going to war without a second resolution may compound legitimacy problems;
  • Relying on decade-old resolutions ejecting Saddam Hussein from Kuwait was improper;
  • Inspector Hans Blix's work at disarming Iraq was proceeding apace and, having not discovered weapons of mass destruction, undermined authority for the war; and
  • The position of the United States government on the legality of war did not take into account more pointed legal problems in the UK. [1] (

This revelation, coming in the final days of the campaign up to the 2005 British general election, was calculated to cause the maximum possible damage to the government, although to what extent it changed the election's outcome it is impossible to say.

The attourney general's advice precipitated the resignation of Elizabeth Wilmhurst, a senior officer in the attorney generals office, on 20 March 2003. A full version of her letter of resignation became public in March 2005. In this she stated her reason for resignation being that she did not believe invasion of Iraq to be legal and she could not be party to the official opinion. She also stated that the attourney general had changed his opinion twice. The leaked Downing Street Memo from July 23 2002 reports the attourney general's opinion as being that war would not be legal without UNSC authorisation, and that relying on old resolutions 'would be difficult'.

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