The shameful silence of the Ministry of Justice about its commercial dealings with Saudi Arabia

Chris Grayling last yearsigning the memorandum of understanding with the Saudis; Pic Credit: UsSembassy

Chris Grayling last year signing the memorandum of understanding with the Saudis; Pic Credit: US embassy

Last week I put up a blog revealing a proposal by the commercial wing of the Ministry of Justice (yes there is one, it’s not satire!) to sell  a £5.9m contract  to the Saudi prison service to provide training and better management for their repressive judicial regime.

The British government under the guise of Chris Grayling the Lord Chancellor, seemed to be falling over itself to get a deal to provide a profit for the ministry from a regime that beheads dozens of citizens a year and flogs many more – including Rafi Badawi, a liberal blogger  facing 1000 lashes and ten years in jail for running a liberal political  website.

The scandal was taken up by lawyer David Allen Green who blogs as Jack of Kent  on his site and  as David Allen Green at the Financial Times.

What has been extraordinary is the way the Ministry of Justice have behaved since the disclosure to both me and the distinguished lawyer.

After telling me it was ridiculous to equate the scheme with selling to a country that routinely flogs  and beheads people they refused to answer some basic questions from him.

He pointed out in a very detailed and useful blog which is well worth a read – link here– that Grayling also recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the Saudi government – for legal co-operation  at a time when the ministry – through Just Solutions International, its commercial wing,- wanted to start commercial contracts with the Saudi state.

He then asked them for some information – such as a copy of the memorandum of understanding, details of the £5.9m contract, details about Just Solutions International, and what it was going to do in Saudi Arabia.

Such as “For example, is JSi going to be challenging and seeking to prevent abuses when it comes across malpractice, and indeed what human rights safeguards and training are going to be built into any programme? “

The Ministry of Justice refused point-blank to provide any more information, release any details about the memorandum or the contract and when pressed added : ” “Sorry, we’re not going to give a running commentary on this.”

One wonders what the Ministry of Justice has got to hide. As Prince Charles and David Cameron dropped everything to pay their respects at  Saudi King Abdullah’s funeral last week,, it might suggest rather a lot and not just at the ministry of justice

Britain also has enormous defence and foreign affairs interests. Remember the  Serious Fraud Office dropping  the BAe Systems Saudi fraud investigation six years ago? And what about BAe speaking at Chris Grayling’s law summit as   tweeted: “To celebrate Magna Carta, Grayling is hosting with BAe speaking on “business and rule of law” . Given the Saudis put pressure on the British judicial  system to drop the rule of law, this is rather ironic Will Just Solutions International play a part?

The government and ministry of justice have a lot to answer – and they shouldn’t get away with it.

Last night The Guardian and the Independent became the first mainstream media to cover the story. See here and here.

2 thoughts on “The shameful silence of the Ministry of Justice about its commercial dealings with Saudi Arabia

  1. You don’t get much management consultancy for six million quid. Strip out the fluff and the PR and the photo-opportunity for happy smiling well-managed offender management service users, and you’ll get a very short report, with one substantial recommendation:

    **”Spend a lot of money on management consultancy and IT systems”**

    So, for a cynic, the MoJ side of the deal boils down to this: ambitious civil servants hanging out their knickers on the door-knocker, drumming up trade for their generous friends in management consultancy and IT ‘solution partner’ companies… Who have been screwing over the British taxpayer for the last two decades.

    I wish these selfless servants of the people everything that they deserve in their future careers and their retirement.

    Meanwhile, BAE’s appearance as the headline act in the MoJ’s Magna Carta conference on law and constitution is the red light in the window, making it quite clear to everyone what kind of house this is: landlord, tenants, pimps, punters and all. As if we didn’t know. But the purpose of the red light in the knocking-shop window isn’t an advertisement that we are doing business: it’s a blatant declaration that the house is what it is, assuring us that everybody knows; everyone, including the authorities, and an assurance that they know what’s good for business and have chosen not to interfere.

    Background reading:

    The Jack of Kent blog, an excellent source of commentary on legal and constitutional affairs.

    The Ministry of Justice and their consultancy work for the Kingdom

    On the Magna Carta conference. I think the authors are unfair to criticise Mr Grayling – he’s far to dim to understand the problem and his civil servants have (rightly) shielded him from it; but the rest of the article’s spot-on.

    The Corner House judgement: British Aerospace and improper interference in a criminal investigation of fraud and bribery relating to a contract with Saudi Arabia


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