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.