British QC for Saddam.

Saddam Hussein's family have chosen one of Britain's best-known barristers to defend the former Iraqi dictator at his trial for mass murder which is due to start in Baghdad next week.

Anthony Scrivener QC, a former chairman of the Bar Council, has been asked to go to Iraq to head the defence in what will be one of the most closely watched trials of recent times.

The approach to Mr Scrivener, whose high-profile clients have included Dame Shirley Porter, Asil Nadir, Winston Silcott and Gerry Conlon of the Guildford Four, was made on behalf of Saddam's daughter, Raghad Saddam Hussein.

Saddam himself is said to be in "upbeat" mood about the trial.

Mr Scrivener's clerk, Martin Hart, confirmed last night that the QC had been asked to represent Saddam. "Mr Scrivener has been approached to lead a legal team to challenge the lawfulness of the tribunal trying Saddam Hussein," said a statement issued by his chambers. Mr Hart stressed that no final agreement had been made.

Desmond Doherty, a Derry solicitor who worked on the Bloody Sunday inquiry, is also said to be part of the team. He was not available for comment last night. The prosecution has assembled an 800-page dossier outlining the case against Saddam, according to last night's BBC Newsnight.

The charges so far relate to the execution of 143 people in Dujail, north of Baghdad, in 1982. The death sentences, signed by Saddam, supposedly in response to an assassination attempt on him, will form the heart of the case. He is also charged with torture and forced expulsion.

It is understood that the defence case will be that the death sentences were passed after a legitimate legal process and that Saddam merely confirmed them in the same way that George Bush, as governor of Texas, confirmed 152 executions.

The exiled Iraqi barrister Abdul Haq al-Ani, who is another member of the defence team, will challenge the lawfulness of the special tribunal and argue that Saddam is entitled to sovereign immunity as a head of state. "It was drafted by an occupying power," he said. "It has no right under international law to change the legal system of the occupied land." He added that Saddam was "upbeat . . . in high spirits" and relishing the prospect of the trial due to start on October 19. If convicted, he would face the death penalty.

Mr Scrivener represented Mr Conlon, in his successful appeal against conviction for the Guildford pub bombing, and Silcott, who was charged and then cleared of killing PC Keith Blakelock. Among his other former clients are Lee Clegg, the British paratrooper charged with the shooting of a joyrider in Northern Ireland; the former Guinness chief Ernest Saunders; and Tony Martin, who shot a burglar.

Once spoken of as a potential Labour lord chancellor - he has had a long involvement with the Labour party - Mr Scrivener has frequently written on legal issues in the media, including many articles in the Guardian.

Last year he wrote a prescient article in the Independent on Sunday in which he suggested that "the trial of Saddam Hussein and some of his nasty colleagues has already degenerated into the realms of a promising theatrical farce". He added: "The United States wants this to be a showcase for democratic justice - something to show for the hundreds of lives lost in this escapade." He also wrote: "There is much to be said for having an experienced international jurist who is entirely unconnected with the allied invaders, on the tribunal."

Mr Scrivener lists his hobbies in Who's Who as car racing and "taking the dog for a walk".

Anthony Scrivener QC wrote that the trial of Saddam and his henchmen was degenerating into 'the realms of theatrical farce'.

[Source: By Duncan Campbell, The Guardian, London, UK, 14Oct05]

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