NZ praised for 'steering clear of Iraq war'

He attacked his own country for defying international law and invading Iraq without authorisation from the United Nations Security Council.

But Thomas Bingham, one of Britain's most authoritative judicial figures, commends New Zealand for steering clear of the Middle Eastern conflict while Australia chose to take part.

"Obviously I do attach considerable importance to people complying with the rule of law.

"It's not for me to criticise Australia. I'm prepared to criticise my own country." Lord Bingham has just retired as Britain's senior law lord and sat on the most recent David Bain appeal case in London's Privy Council.

He was in New Zealand last week to present a speech to Victoria University's Law Faculty.

He created controversy in Britain last month, describing the 2003 Iraq invasion as a serious violation of international law and accusing Britain and the United States of acting like a "world vigilante".

Speaking to The Dominion Post, he said though the invasion was widely considered to have been unauthorised and illegal, ironically it may have strengthened the international legal system.

"It has concentrated attention in a way that most international conflicts have not on the importance of complying with United Nations' charters."

Lord Bingham deplored the use of torture methods such as waterboarding by US interrogators on enemy combatants and the practice of rendition - the secret transfer of prisoners to other governments with a history of torture tactics.

However, he hoped the election of Barack Obama as US president would bring about major changes in US foreign policy.

"I'm extremely hopeful that Obama will treat compliance with international law a great deal more seriously than his predecessor did."

Asked about New Zealand's standing on the world stage, he said: "Quite clearly New Zealand doesn't exert muscle that is comparative to the US. But for a small country, I would have thought it carried a lot of weight as being unaligned, democratic and responsible in its response to world problems."

As for New Zealand's decision to ditch the Privy Council as the final appeal body for New Zealanders in favour of a home-grown Supreme Court, he said it was regrettable "on historical grounds" but up to the people of New Zealand.


The Dominion Post