The Irishworld Online

Irish lawyer in bid to impeach Blair

by Tom Griffin
3 September 2004

A leading Irish human rights lawyer has been recruited by MPs planning to impeach Tony Blair over the war in Iraq.

Professor Conor Gearty, a colleague of the Prime Minister’s wife Cherie Booth QC at top law firm Matrix Chambers, will draw up charges and advise on parliamentary procedure

A cross-party group of MPs last week published a report claiming that there was sufficient evidence and legal precedent

“Today a number of MPs, including myself, are declaring our intention to bring a Commons' motion of impeachment against the prime minister in relation to the invasion of Iraq,” Plaid Cymru MP Adam Price said at the launch of the document. “This is the first time in more than 150 years that such a motion has been brought against a minister of the crown, and it is clearly not an undertaking we enter into lightly.”

“One MP is all it takes to make the accusation of high crimes and misdemeanours against a public official for an impeachment process to begin. Once an MP has presented his or her evidence of misconduct to the Commons in a debate, and if a majority of elected members agree there is a case to answer, a committee of MPs is established to draw up articles of impeachment, which will list each charge individually. The case goes before the Lords.”

Although the practise of impeachment is well known in the United States, where an unsuccessful attempt was made to use it against former President Bill Clinton, it has not been used in Britain since 1848, and some have viewed it as obsolete.

Nevertheless, the impeachment plan has won backing from Plaid Cymru, the SNP and Conservative and from Liberal Democrat backbenchers. Leading human rights solicitor Phil Shiner has instructed Matrix barristers Conor Gearty and Rabinder Singh on behalf of the group.

"This is no joke or gimmick, as New Labour would like to suggest,” Mr Shiner said.

"It is a highly professional job that we are taking very seriously. Neither Rabinder Singh, Conor Gearty nor myself would be putting time into this if we thought it was just a stunt.

"Those who have suggested that impeachment is not still part of the Parliamentary process are talking nonsense. There is a clear distinction between a procedure that has not been used for a long time and one that has actually been abolished. The Foreign Office made it clear in a submission to a House of Lords Select Committee in 1997 that primary legislation would be needed to abolish impeachment. Our view is that there is a compelling case that the Prime Minister was involved in deception."

Professor Gearty is a well-known expert on terrorism, civil liberties and human rights law. As well as being a founder member of Matrix Chambers, he is Professor of Human Rights Law at the London School of Economics.

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