by Keith Richmond
LEADING Scottish lawyers are challenging the legality of the Trident nuclear weapons system.
Scottish Lawyers Against Trident, which includes senior members of the legal profession as well as leading legal academics, is calling on the Scottish government at Holyrood and the Ministry of Defence in London to remove Trident from Scotland.
â€œThe legality of these horrific weapons is, at the very least, questionable,â€ said the groupâ€™s spokesperson, human rights lawyer Hilary Patrick. â€œSome of our members consider it is illegal even to possess them. Their use would almost certainly breach international law because nuclear weapons cannot distinguish between civilian and non-civilian targets.
â€œBritain claims to have an â€˜ethicalâ€™ foreign policy. Our defence policy should not be based on weapons which can never legally be used.
â€œWe call on the Scottish government to remove Trident from Scotland and on the Ministry of Defence to seek more proportionate means of defending British interests.
â€œHow can Britain complain about nuclear proliferation if we continue to increase our own nuclear capacity?â€
Frances McCartney and Daniel Fenn of SLAT went to Faslane last week to deliver a letter to Commodore Carolyn Stait, the commander of the naval base, explaining what the group believe is the legal position regarding Trident.
The letter â€“ copies of which were also sent to Des Browne, the Secretary of State for Defence, and Scotlandâ€™s
First Minister Alex Salmond â€“ says: â€œWe are unhappy that the UK government should
pursue a defence policy whose legality is so doubtful. We believe the UK should set
an example to the world of nuclear disarmament, not rearmament.
â€œWe fail to understand why the international community should prohibit countries such as North Korea from developing nuclear weapons at a time when the UK is contemplating renewing its weapons.â€
The continued presence of Trident in Scotland could, says SLAT, have serious consequences for the union and relations between Holyrood and Westminster.
â€œWe are told we live in a democracyâ€, said Hilary Patrick. â€œThe majority of Scots do not want Trident here. An ICM poll carried out this year found that almost two-thirds of Scots are opposed to the plan to replace Trident, regardless of the cost.
â€œWe do not believe Scots should have these deadly and possibly illegal weapons based in their country. Their continued presence here could cause a constitutional crisis. If Westminster continues to force us to site them in Scotland, it could threaten the union.â€
SLAT base their arguments on humanitarian law â€“ and simple morality.
â€œWe share with many others, including academics and church people, the belief that the use of nuclear weapons of mass destruction is morally repugnant. We cannot envisage any circumstances where it would be appropriate for the UK to use such weapons.
â€œAnd we agree with the Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice in 1996 that the threat or use of nuclear weapons would, generally, be contrary to the rules of international law and, in particular, the principles and rules of international humanitarian law.â€
There will be a mass rally at Faslane on October 1 to mark the end of 365 days of protest at the base. More than 100 groups have turned up to show their opposition to the renewal of the nuclear missile system.