Wednesday, 28 January 2015
A shabby deal !
The UK - Saudi Arabia deal:
The Ministry of Justice and its Secretary of State are at the top of a pyramid which includes the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) and, within NOMS, is a somewhat little known entity: Just Solutions International. JSi maintains a separate website - HERE.
In a 2014 Mid-Year Report to Parliament, the Ministry of Justice said that:
"The Secretary of State visited Riyadh in September 2014 to sign a Memorandum of Understanding on Judicial Cooperation, to build upon the existing bilateral justice relationship, promote UK legal services in Saudi Arabia and raise awareness of the upcoming Global Law Summit. He also met UK lawyers with offices in Riyadh. Discussions were also held on judicial cooperation, King Abdullah’s reform programme, and human rights issues." The report offered no further detail.
The Mid-Year Report also noted that:
"In August 2014, JSi submitted a £5.9m proposal to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Ministry of Finance to conduct a training needs analysis across all the learning and development programmes within the Saudi Arabian Prison Service."
The Justice system of Saudi Arabia:
Some information about the Justice System in Saudi Arabia may be seen on the website of the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia, Washington DC
It is a justice system that has become increasingly condemned by human rights organisations. For instance, it is reported that in 2015 there have already been 16 individuals beheaded. The public flogging (public torture) of a "blogger" has also aroused disgust.
It appears that, at the time JSi submitted its proposal, Saudi Arabia had already carried out at least 40 executions by beheading in 2014 - (See this article - Beheadings remain an integral part of Saudi justice system).
UK links with Saudi Arabia:
Historically there have been very close commercial and military links with Saudi Arabia. Such links continue. It is not the purpose of this blogpost to analyse those but some further in formation is available in the article by historian Mark Almond (Daily Mail 25th January) and in The Guardian 27th January. Lord King of Bridgewater is a trade envoy to Saudi Arabia. This article (Asharq al-Aswat 1st December 2014) covers an interview with Lord King. It is noted that:
"Britain remains one of Saudi Arabia’s most prominent trading partners, with British exports to the Kingdom jumping 29 percent in 2013 to reach a total of 4.2 billion British pounds (6.6 billion US dollars). Britain is also the second-biggest foreign investor in the Saudi economy, with total investments currently valued at 11.5 billion pounds (18 billion dollars), and both kingdoms share historical, economic and strategic links harking back to the founding of Saudi Arabia at the start of the last century."
The "Corner House" case:
The intelligence links with Saudi Arabia came to public prominence with the "Corner House" case in 2006 - see House of Lords judgment of 2008. The question for the House of Lords was whether the decision by the Director of the Serious Fraud Office to discontinue a prosecution was lawful. Baroness Hale (at para 52) said:
" ..... It is extremely distasteful that an independent public official should feel himself obliged to give way to threats of any sort. The Director clearly felt the same for he resisted the extreme pressure under which he was put for as long as he could. The great British public may still believe that it was the risk to British commercial interests which caused him to give way, but the evidence is quite clear that this was not so. He only gave way when he was convinced that the threat of withdrawal of Saudi security co-operation was real and that the consequences would be an equally real risk to "British lives on British streets". The only question is whether it was lawful for him to take this into account."
and, at para 57 Her Ladyship said:
" ..... although I would wish that the world were a better place where honest and conscientious public servants were not put in impossible situations such as this, I agree that his decision was lawful and this appeal must be allowed."
The fact remains however, that pressure was applied to the SFO Director.
Should there be this deal?
Should the Ministry of Justice / JSi have entered into a deal relating to prisons in Saudi Arabia. For my part, I would say that it should not have done so. It appears that the deal is not yet final and, if that is right, then I would urge the government to abandon the deal. To enter such a deal is to lend tacit support for a regime that continues to operate barbaric criminal justice policies and which shows no sign of abandoning them. In fact, the reverse seems to be the case given the three further executions carried out in recent days.
The estimable blogger Jack of Kent (David Allen Green) offers a "must read" detailed analysis of the situation - A conflict of interest: the Saudi State and the UK's Ministry of Justice. Mr Green concludes by saying:
"The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice cannot combine the duty to uphold the rule of law and protect the integrity of the domestic legal system at the same time as entering into a commercial deal with the Saudi state described in the Corner House case (and other cases).
In summary: whatever else is wrong about this deal, the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice should not enter into a high-value and beneficial commercial relationship with a Saudi state which is well documented as using illegitimate force to disrupt the legal system of the UK."
With that, I respectfully agree.
The Lord Chancellorship:
It is worth noting here that the Secretary of State for Justice also doubles as the Lord Chancellor (LC). The LC post is but a shadow of the historical post though it retains a considerable number of duties allocated to it by numerous statutes over the centuries! There are clear conflicts between the Lord Chancellor's role to uphold the rule of law and his other Ministerial functions to deliver controversial policies such as the cutting of legal aid and reforms to prisons and probation.
In December 2014, a report was published by the House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution - The Office of Lord Chancellor - 6th report of Session 2014-15
It is a detailed and interesting report but the LC role survived! That committee even recommended that the Lord Chancellor be given responsibility within government for oversight of the constitution. If some future government is to adopt that recommendation then serious consideration should certainly be given to separating the LC and Secretary of State roles and requiring that the LC be a lawyer of considerable experience.