Elizabeth Wilmshurst

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Elizabeth Wilmshurst was a UK Foreign Office lawyer who resigned in the run-up to the 2003 US-Iraq war. In her letter of resignation, which later became public, she stated that she:

… disagreed fundamentally with the Attorney General that the invasion of Iraq would be legal under international law. Her resignation letter not only illustrates in stark terms the strength of her views, but, for the first time, highlights the Attorney General's change of opinion on the legality of invasion within the space of less than two weeks.[1]

In essence, her censored letter strongly suggests that initially the Attorney General's legal opinion suggested that a war against Iraq would be illegal under international law. For a variety of motives this opinion was changed leading to Wilmhurst's resignation.

The Guardian version may be more accurate because they have actually read the whole letter. This is the conclusion drawn from it:

The government yesterday tried to suppress evidence that the attorney general believed war against Iraq was illegal less than two weeks before British troops joined the US-led invasion of the country.
It has removed a key passage in the resignation letter written by Elizabeth Wilmshurst, deputy chief legal adviser at the Foreign Office, on March 18 2003, the eve of the invasion.
The remainder of her letter – in which she described the planned invasion as a "crime of aggression" – was released yesterday under the Freedom of Information Act.[2]

Professional History

2003- Chatham House, Head of Intl Law
2003-Date Visiting Professor, University College, London University
1999-Apr 2003 Deputy Legal Adviser, Foreign & Commonwealth Office
1994-1999 Legal Counsellor at United Kingdom Misson to the United Nations, New York, then in the Foreign & Commonwealth Office
1990-1994 Legal Counsellor, Foreign & Commonwealth Office
1986-1990 Assistant Legal Adviser, then Legal Counsellor, Attorney General's Office
1974-1986 Assistant Legal Adviser, then Legal Counsellor at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office
1972 Lecturer, Bristol University


at Chatham House
Phone: +44 (0)20 7957 5746
Fax: +44 (0)20 7957 5710
Email: ewilmshurst AT riia.org
Chatham House biography


External Resources