LABOUR and the Tories clashed over the legality of Saturday’s missile strikes in Syria.

A day after the attack, the Government released a summary of the legal advice from the attorney general, Jeremy Wright, saying the use of force could be justified in law as it was necessary to prevent humanitarian catastrophe.

The attorney general told the Prime Minister that Bashar al-Assad’s regime was guilty of a “serious crime of international concern, as a breach of the customary international law prohibition on the use of chemical weapons, and amounts to a war crime and a crime against humanity”.

This he argued, allowed the UK “to take measures in order to alleviate overwhelming humanitarian suffering”. But Labour yesterday revealed its own legal advice which claimed the attacks may be legally questionable

Dapo Akande, professor of public international law and co-director of the Oxford Institute for Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict, said the Government’s position was “significantly flawed” as neither the United Nations charter nor international law permitted military action on the basis of humanitarian intervention. Akande then went on to say that even if such a clause existed in international law, Saturday’s strikes against Syria would still not meet the threshold. “It is quite clear that the position advocated by the Government is not an accurate reflection of international law as it currently stands,” he said.

“International law does not permit individual states to use force on the territory of other states in order to pursue humanitarian ends determined by those states.”

The professor also warned about the precedent of using this humanitarian rationale for the attack: “If accepted by states globally, it would allow for individual assessments of when force was necessary to achieve humanitarian ends. It is precisely because of the risk of abuse that this may give rise to, and the consequent humanitarian suffering that will ensue from such abusive uses of force, that other states and many scholars have been reluctant to endorse the doctrine of humanitarian action.”

He warned that it could open up the possibility of a small group of states, or individual states, “taking action based on their own subjective interpretations as to when it is right or proper to use force”.