From David Mackenzie for Trident Ploughshares

6th September 2000

Mr. John Orr O.B.E.

Chief Constable

Strathclyde Police

173 Pitt Street


G2 4JS

Dear Mr. Orr, Legality of Trident Thank you for your letter 24th August. We appreciate the detail you have gone into in your reply and your acknowledgement of the relevance of the issue to the response of Strathclyde Police to our activities.

I want to point out right away that we do not see ourselves as protesters but as people engaged in crime prevention. The reference in your 5th paragraph to the role of the Force is to do with the former, rather than the latter. As we see the legal situation the challenge to you and your officers is not so much to get to grips with a sensitive balance between two sets of competing rights, but to come down unequivocally on the side of the law.

You say that you are unable to comment on the legality or otherwise of the use of nuclear weapons. In fact, you seem to have begun a review of the legality issue and to have decided that there is no basis for a movement from your current policy, which is to take no action against the Trident complex and to hinder citizens involved in lawful crime prevention.

You refer to John- v-Donnelly. The relevance of that case to the points I have already made re the legality of Trident is limited by the fact that the said case dealt with, as you say, the possession of nuclear weapons, whereas the challenge to you is the need to respond to a situation in which Trident is actively deployed with a conditional threat of use at any time. I should also point out that the Greenock case is not going to any Court of Appeal. Rather, the ruling of Sheriff Gimblett has become the subject of a Lord Advocate’s Reference, which is due to be heard from 9th October.

I strongly recommend that you study the entire Advisory Opinion (8.7.96) of the International Court of Justice and I enclose a copy for your convenience, together with a copy of the World Court Project’s paper Trident and the World Court: July 2000. In connection with the Advisory Opinion it is critical to note that the Court dealt with nuclear weapons in general, not with Trident in particular. In Trident’s case it is impossible to see how these missiles could be deployed, threatened or used without breaching the principles on which the Court founded its Opinion. This point is well developed by Angie Zelter in her December 1999 article in Disarmament Diplomacy (copy included).

You will also find our website ( useful on these issues.

I would also emphasise again that it is the duty of the civil police to take their own advice on the relevance of International Humanitarian Law to their activities and policies, and not to rely simply on the response or lack of it from the local legal system. After all, much of the murderous activity of the Nazi regime was sanctioned by the German law of the time. After a half-century of colluding with nuclear crime, Scottish law is only now, and with much confusion and hesitation, beginning to recognise its obligations to the wider framework. As responsible citizens we cannot wait for it to catch up with reality. We have a legal right under international law to act now. Our Counsel advises us that as a responsible police force you have precisely the same obligation.

I am puzzled by your opinion that the Geneva Convention Acts of 1957 and 1995 do not impose any obligations on Strathclyde Police. These are Acts of the UK Parliament, fully incorporated into the UK legal framework and binding on all. It is therefore your duty to enforce these provisions. Even without such specific enactment the principles of international humanitarian law apply in the local legal framework. This was confirmed by the ICJ which stated (at para. 79 of the 1996 Opinion) that: “fundamental rules (of humanitarian law) are to be observed by all States whether or not they have ratified the conventions that contain them, because they constitute intransgressible principles of international customary law”.

I can readily understand that the sheer enormity of the crime and the implications of tackling it might inhibit you from acting. Even so, at the very least, would you consider openly raising with senior colleagues and with the Scottish Executive the dilemmas that the issue raises for the Force?

Yours in love, peace and hope

David Mackenzie

For Trident Ploughshares


Advisory Opinion (8.7.96) of the International Court of Justice

Trident and the World Court (World Court Project: July 2000)

Putting Nuclear Weapons on Trial (Angie Zelter in Disarming Diplomacy, December 1999)