LONDON – Records of British cabinet discussions over the legality of invading Iraq, held in the buildup to war in 2003, must be released to the public, a tribunal ruled on Tuesday.
Publication of the documents could embarrass Prime Minister Gordon Brown, whose predecessor Tony Blair was accused by critics of glossing over lawyers’ initial reservations about launching the invasion to overthrow Saddam Hussein.
Brown’s office said it was considering its response to the ruling, made by a tribunal which decides on requests for documents under freedom of information laws.
The tribunal said it was in the public interest to release minutes of the cabinet discussions.
The documents from two cabinet meetings in March 2003 may reveal whether ministers were aware of an apparent change of mind over the invasion’s legality made by the government’s then senior legal officer, Attorney General Lord Goldsmith.
Previously released documents have shown that Goldsmith had cast doubt on the legal grounds of war on March 7, days before Blair ordered British troops in.
Ten days later, when Britain had failed to get a new United Nations resolution authorizing an invasion, Goldsmith gave the cabinet and parliament short written advice that war was legal – and mentioned no doubts.
Blair denied Goldsmith had bowed under political pressure but opposition parties accused the then prime minister of deceit.
“The release of these minutes could be critical in how history views this decision,” said Edward Davey, a spokesman for the opposition Liberal Democrat party.
“The Labour government has put a wall of secrecy over the years since 2003 to prevent the full facts coming out,” he told BBC television.
Both the Liberal Democrats and the opposition Conservatives have called for a full inquiry into the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, which the government has resisted as long as British troops remain in Iraq.
Britain has said it will withdraw almost all its remaining troops from Iraq by the end of July.
The minutes of cabinet meetings would normally be kept secret for 30 years.
Britain’s information commissioner ruled last February that the government should release the documents.
The government appealed against this ruling but on Tuesday the tribunal upheld the commissioner’s decision.
The government has until shortly before the end of February to decide whether to challenge the ruling in the High Court.