Attorney General to set out legal basis for strikes against terror targets

Jeremy Wright QC, Attorney General for England and Wales
Jeremy Wright QC, Attorney General for England and Wales

Jeremy Wright QC, Attorney General for England and Wales, will set out the legal basis for pre-emptive military strikes against overseas terror targets in a speech tonight.

Speaking to the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, Mr Wright will, for the first time, outline the legal considerations that would be discussed before action is taken in self-defence against an imminent attack.

He will say: “The UK is a world leader in promoting, defending and shaping international law – and for the first time we are setting out how we determine whether an attack is imminent.

“We are a long way from being able to see troops massing on the horizon. Technology has made it easier for terrorists to carry out attacks. The law has to keep up with the changing times.

“The Government has a primary duty to protect the lives of its citizens. But, it can only use lethal force where there is a clear legal basis for doing so.”

Mr Wright will say the UK government endorses the view of Sir Daniel Bethlehem, former legal adviser to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), who set out in 2013 a series of factors to be taken into account to assess whether an attack is imminent.

These include:

  • The nature and immediacy of the threat;
  • the probability of an attack;
  • whether the anticipated attack is part of a concerted pattern of continuing armed activity; the likely scale of the attack and the injury,
  • loss or damage likely to result therefrom in the absence of mitigating action; and
  • the likelihood that there will be other opportunities to undertake effective action in self-defence that may be expected to cause less serious collateral injury, loss or damage.
  • Mr Wright will agree that any government determining whether to take action must consider how certain it is that an attack will come, how soon it will be and on what scale.

    He will also say it must then be determined whether anything could credibly be done to prevent the attack, and whether it is the last clear opportunity for preventative action.

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