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In James Rubin's account of the Kosovo war, he describes an exchange between Secretary Albright and Robin Cook (the British Foreign Secretary). Cook was explaining that it is difficult for Britain to commit to the war without UN Security Council approval because the legal advice he had received was that such action would be illegal under international law. Albright's response was, simply,“get new lawyers.”Rubin“credits”Blair with a“push”that swung the British to“finally agree”that a UN Security Council resolution was“not legally required”. Robin Cook later stated in Parliament and that the war was legal. Interestingly, Blair did not.

This article does not look at whether or not such an exchange took place; rather look at the ethical issues that such a situation would generate. The article suggests what the ethical obligations of the key legal players in such institutional dramas should be—including governments seeking advice, the lawyers giving it, the ministers reporting it and the opposition in Parliament. The article sets out the particular responsibilities of the lawyers and officials of a Westminster system. It also sets out some of the institutional mechanisms for making it more likely that those obligations are fulfilled—as always through the interaction of obligations by different players that make it more risky for any player to breach his or her ethical obligations. Analogous duties would be faced by the relevant actors in other systems.

Keywords: Blair; Ethics; Governance; Iraq; James Rubin; Justice; Kosovo; Law; Public Ethics; Robin Cook; UN Security Council; Westminster

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2003

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  • Legal Ethics is an international and interdisciplinary journal devoted to the field of legal ethics.
    The journal provides an intellectual meeting ground for academic lawyers, practitioners and policy-makers to debate developments shaping the ethics of law and its practice at the micro and macro levels.
    Its focus is broad enough to encompass empirical research on the ethics and conduct of the legal professions and judiciary, studies of legal ethics education and moral development, ethics development in contemporary professional practice, the ethical responsibilities of law schools, professional bodies and government, and jurisprudential or wider philosophical reflections on law as an ethical system and on the moral obligations of individual lawyers.
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