The Great £300m Probation Bail Out: You Pay, They Prey

Richard_Heaton

Richard Heaton, permanent secretary Ministry of Justice. Pic Credit: wikipedia

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On Wednesday two very highly paid civil servants £185,000 a year Richard Heaton, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Justice and £190,000 a year Michael Spurr, Chief Executive, HM Prison and Probation Service will appear before MPs to explain their latest botch  up  – the privatisation failure of parts of the probation service.

I hope MPs on the Commons Public Accounts Committee will not only be briefed by the excellent National Audit Office report  and investigation into the failure of Community Rehabilitation Companies – the fancy name for profit making companies like Sodexo and Seetec.

They should also read the coruscating report by Dame Glenys Stacey HM Chief Inspector of Probation and Peter Clarke  HM Chief Inspector of Prisons last June on the performance of these companies and their failure to either help ex offenders go straight or protect the public from child abusers and  perpetrators of domestic violence.

This sorry tale goes back to 2015 when Chris Grayling ( he of the  current Virgin rail privatisation botch ups)  was Justice Secretary and thought it a brilliant idea to privatise swathes of the probation service for prisoners serving 12 months or more who were at low risk of self harm.

Michael Spurr

Michael Spurr, Chief Executive of the Prisons and Probation Service. Image credit: Channel4

From the very beginning they bungled it. They planned to give the 21 companies £3.7 billion until 2022 to handle and help large numbers of prisoners. The companies planned for this but Whitehall  had overestimated the number of low risk ex offenders leaving prison and underestimated the number of high risk ex offenders who are still being helped by the publicly run probation service. As a result the companies would only get £2.1 billion.

So of course now the companies are in deep trouble facing losses of  £443m by 2022. So what do these top civil servants do. They give them more  of your cash to help them with their profit margins.

They have had a £42m bail out for dealing with fewer offenders in 2016 and another £22m to keep the companies going while the ministry kindly re-negotiates their contracts  to deal with fewer ex prisoners.

It has now agreed to pay another £278m up to 2022 but has changed the terms of contract so the private firms will get even less money if any of the released prisoners re-offend.

Now if you read the inspectors’ report on the performance of these companies, this is a sick joke. The inspectors think their provision is so bad and useless that they might as well not exist.

They said: “Clearly there is more time for resettlement work with these prisoners, but CRCs are making little difference to their prospects on release. We found them no better served than their more transient fellow prisoners were some eight months ago. The overall picture was bleak. If Through the Gate services were removed tomorrow, in our view the impact on the resettlement of prisoners would be negligible. ”

But not only are they useless but they could be a menace to society. They were so bad at rehabilitating prisoners – they spent their time sitting at desks  writing up reports on the computers – rather than helping them face to face. Some prisoners left to become homeless with little chance of getting a job.

But more seriously they let out child abusers, violent individuals who had beaten up their partners and drug addicts putting their victims at risk by having no proper supervision or rehabilitation plans.

In my view this £300m would be better spent funding refuges for victims of domestic  violence ( in desperate short supply) or linking it back to the publicly run service.

You are paying for these companies to prey  on the taxpayer without  delivering any decent result and also allow  released criminals to prey on  their victims by their failure to rehabilitate them. No doubt the two highly paid civil servants will distance themselves from their failed policy  when they appear before MPs on Wednesday

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Gove is dumping one of Britain’s worst courts on Labour’s Greater Manchester

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Michael Gove, the justice secretary, is planning to dump on the citizens of Greater Manchester responsibility for running one of the worst funded and performing courts in England and Wales.

It is being packaged  under the slogan ” Northern Powerhouse” but it amounts to making sure Labour has to take responsibility for the court at a time when the government is planning even more cuts to the judicial system which is already in chaos. I have written about this in Tribune magazine.

Already a damning report last month from the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee  has accused the ministry of bringing the criminal justice system to breaking point after slashing 26 per cent from its budget and closing courts across the country. Another 15 per cent of cuts are proposed between now and 2020.

The report revealed for the first time how the impact of the cuts had on individual crown courts revealing the best and worst performers in handling trials in a system now bedevilled by delays, lawyer shortages, and inefficiencies. A backlog of more than 50,000 cases has built up.

On average only around a third of trials in Crown Courts went ahead as planned on the day they were due to start. One in 10 cases were not ready and were postponed to another day. Currently, 24 per cent of cases are withdrawn on the day they are due to start, most commonly because the defendant pleads guilty on the day.

In Greater Manchester, only 18 per of cases went ahead on the day (the only worse place was Lancashire with 16 per cent); 21 per cent were withdrawn on the day after the defendant pleaded guilty and more than half, the joint highest in the country, of cases (55 per cent) are put back because they cannot start on the day scheduled.

MPs tried to get information from the government on how the new devolved package to Greater Manchester would work but were told “there is quite a lot of detail to be worked out” even though the move had been included in the March Budget statement by George Osborne, the Chancellor.

To my mind this suggests that the proposal is nothing more than a” back of the envelope ” job by the Tories who have  not thought out what exactly this will mean. Any sane person would have a plan in mind before making such a radical change. But then that is hardly surprising given the mess Gove has left behind  at the Department of Education by rushing through plans for academies without checking financial controls.

Greater Manchester need to be on their guard that they are not being offered a poisoned chalice by the government – and need to negotiate very carefully what exactly is being offered by Gove to run this part of the judicial system. Otherwise they find themselves the whipping boy for failed Tory policies and  be conveniently blamed for the cash starved judicial system.

How the Legal Ombudsman’s Office ripped off the taxpayer with a £1m irregular incentive scheme

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What  would you think if the organisation that handles your complaint against a poorly performing solicitor or barrister was itself ripping you off as a taxpayer?

That  is the extraordinary situation in the Office of Legal Complaints or Legal Ombudsman for the last six years where well over £1m extra cash has been paid to its staff  without approval from anyone just to keep them from taking jobs in the private sector.

This was exposed last month in a  virtually unreported disclosure from the National Audit Office. I have written it up for Tribune magazine this month.

The office handles tens of thousands of complaints every year from the general public about poor service from legal professionals – whether it is over conveyancing,personal injuries, wills or family disputes. What emerged about what was going in this office of over 200 people has led to resignation or dismissal  ( whether you take his version or the Ministry of Justice’s ) of its £167,000 a year head, Adam Sampson  who has been described by his permanent secretary as “ not a fit and proper person” to continue  as an accounting officer to Parliament.

He presided over what the NAO called a ” novel and contentious” irregular payment scheme which saw its top officers and the rest of his staff benefit from pay enhancements well beyond anything else available in Whitehall currently suffering pay freezes and one per cent pay rises.

The two unauthorised pay schemes were aimed to retain legal staff who might be tempted to leave and join the private sector. One for senior executives was according to the annual accounts “a benefit in addition to salary and was ­believed by the OLC at the time to be necessary to attract and retain the best candidates nationally to senior posts within the organisation”. Some £33,000 was paid out the last financial year – ­altogether some £348,000 has been paid over six years.

The second scheme for general staff allowed up to an extra 3 per cent to be paid on top of their salaries to encourage them not to leave to join the private sector. This cost nearly £900,000.

Neither scheme was authorised by the Ministry of Justice and neither was spotted for four years either. Successive Lord Chancellors -Kenneth Clarke and Chris Grayling didn’t notice.

On top of this there is suggestion of  alleged expenses fiddling by the chief executive.

The report said an arrangement from 2009 assumed “Mr Sampson to be living in Birmingham [where the OLC offices were based from January 2010] despite his only spending up to two nights a week in Birmingham away from his London home.”

The claims involved train fares which could not be solely justified for business use between London and Birmingham.

The Ministry has reported him to the tax authorities for not declaring them as a benefit in kind. Altogether he had received over £27,000 in benefits in kind over the last two years in office.

What is extraordinary is that the two schemes are still in existence today and the Treasury is still trying to end them this year. The reason is that the contracts drawn up by lawyers are so watertight that the Treasury is having difficulty unravelling them.

One can only say that if the lawyers at the Office of Legal Complaints spent as much time providing a good service to the  public as they did in drawing up lucrative contracts for themselves Whitehall would be a much better place.

Why are we waiting for Lady Macur’s Review into child sex abuse in North Wales?

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Why does a judge having meticulously completed a major report on failings in investigating historic child sexual abuse in North Wales want to redact her own findings?

This is the bizarre  question facing  Lady  Justice Macur who on December 15 last year handed in her final independent report to the Welsh Office and the Ministry of Justice. Yet only weeks later Caroline Dinenage, the junior minister at Ministry of Justice, told Ann Clwyd, Labour MP for Cynon Valley, that the judge herself was recommending ” certain material  should be considered for redaction”.

She also disclosed that ” the report needs to be considered by law enforcement agencies and the government before it can be published. This includes considering whether redactions need to be  made”.

At the moment there is no date for publication – rather like the situation until last month surrounding  Dame Janet’s Smith’s report into Savile at the BBC which had been delayed for more than a year after being completed.

The report is particularly significant for survivors of child sexual and physical abuse in North Wales children’s homes. An inquiry  by Sir Ronald Waterhouse into the abuse of children in care in the former Gwynedd and Clwyd council areas of North Wales between 1974 and 1996 was supposed to get to the root of the problem and see perpetrators jailed.

But it is now obvious some 20 years later that it failed to do so as Operation Pallial under the National Crime Agency has brought many perpetrators to the courts where they have either been found guilty and imprisoned or not guilty and allowed to continue with their lives.

The review will examine some very important questions. Was the scope of the first review adequate or did the terms of reference allow people to escape justice? Did the North Wales police do an adequate job investigating these crimes? How did some people get away with abuse? What do the police, the authorities and the government need to do to prevent such a repetition?

Yet at least two Welsh MPs Ann Clwyd and Wrexham MP Ian Lucas are far from happy about the fresh delay – the inquiry was started four years ago.

Ann Clwyd is particularly sceptical as to why the government needs to scrutinise the report before it is published.

She points out in a letter to Caroline Dinenage that it is meant to be independent of government but now the government will decide when it will be published and what will be published.

She wants to know whether the government and law enforcement agencies have been set deadlines and who will take the decision to redact what material and why.

It may be with Operation Pallial still to bring some cases to court notably the trial of ex  North Wales police chief Gordon Angelsea whose case is not due to start until  September that some material may not be published to avoid prejudicing the trial.

However none of this has been made clear. The Wales Office and the Ministry of Justice need to get on with this – set a date for publication – or suspicions will grow that both departments have something to hide. They owe this to the survivors of these appalling cases in children’s homes in North Wales.

 

 

How Kenneth Clarke and Chris Grayling’s failed commercial venture cost us the taxpayer over £1m

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An extraordinary report published by the National Audit Office today on ” Just Solutions” – the commercial arm of the Ministry of Justice set up by former Lord Chancellor Kenneth Clarke – reveals that taxpayers have lost over £1m on the failed venture.

Remember this was promoted by Chris Grayling so the Ministry of Justice could make money by selling prison expertise to regimes with appalling judicial systems like Saudi Arabia and Oman. It was closed down by Michael Gove when he became justice secretary after the election.

Now the NAO reveals that not only was this unethical but it actually cost the taxpayer money. Indeed one can see how desperate the government might have been to sign a  £5.9 m contract with Saudi Arabia and further contracts with Oman – as this would have been the only way it could have made a profit out it.

Instead over four years  from 2012 to this year  it lost £302,000, £390,000 £317,000  and £141,000 respectively. leading to a £ 1,150,000 cumulative loss for the taxpayer.

And its scope was much wider than people realised with projects in Nigeria, the Seychelles, Libya, Estonia, Mauritius, Bermuda, the Cayman Islands as well as private study visits to drum up business in China, Bangla Desh, Turkmenistan and India.

As the NAO found: ” The cost of setting up JSi exceeded the income generated by completed contracts. We estimate that JSi’s costs were approximately £2.1 million from 2012 until its closure, including £239,000 on consultancy services. Therefore JSi made a net loss of approximately £1.1 million in this period. This is due, in part, to the decision to withdraw from prospective arrangements with Saudi Arabia and Oman.”

The report discloses that it had big plans for Oman.

“The initial proposal, Phase 1, was for a small piece of work to critique the plans of an
existing prison and was valued at £98,000. This was expected to be followed by work
to develop a new prison in Oman, Phase 2, valued initially at approximately £4 million
but later negotiations increased this to £7.8 million. In addition, preliminary discussions
were held in 2014 with the Omani government around a national training programme.”

Grayling also spent £6500 fighting off a judicial review  of its activities before the organisation was closed by Michael Gove.

This is all a far cry from the boasts in the Ministry of Justice six monthly report saying it was all contributing to the ministry’s budget and supposed to be saving the taxpayer money. Instead it was racking up debts.

This a sorry tale for anybody who has a shred of ethics and thought Britain should not be helping regimes that flog and behead offenders. Bur the fact that it lost money doing it is  a  further damning indictment of the government and Chris Grayling.

As Meg Hillier, chair of the public accounts committee, said yesterday:  “When Just Solutions International was closed down it had made an overall loss of £1.1 million despite a commitment that it would be self-funding by April 2013.

“Despite being a commercial venture, it generated less than £1 million income over three years.

“I am concerned by the loss of taxpayers’ money on this failed venture, and the Ministry of Justice’s ongoing work with countries with questionable human rights records.”

 

 

Dropped: The vile Saudi Arabian contract that helped prop up a barbaric justice system

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The Cabinet revolt that ended the £5.9m contract bid by the now doomed Just Solutions International – the commercial arm of the Ministry of Justice – is to be welcomed.

Justice Secretary  Michael Gove’s decision to press home ending this deal over the head of Philip Hammond, the foreign secretary, and initially, David Cameron, is the only morally acceptable case. Britain could not be seen helping a country that uses public beheadings, floggings and crucifixion as a routine part of its justice system.

When I first saw the disclosure of the deal in a routine half yearly report of the Ministry of Justice laid before Parliament I had no idea we had a commercial arm of the ministry, let alone that we had already done deals with Oman and Macedonia and were bidding for a Saudi contract.

Thanks to the work of. lawyer David Allen Green – known as Jack O’Kent on Twitter- who has assiduously followed this issue since -Downing Street has become embarrassed – and finally thrown in the towel. You can follow him on the JackofKentblog

I am also delighted that Lord Falconer, the shadow Lord Chancellor has reported this to the National Audit Office – because Just Solutions International set up by Gove’s predecessor, Chris Grayling, deserves a thorough financial examination.

I am also pleased that Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader used his conference speech to demand David Cameron dropped the deal. I realise that he reads Tribune where I also featured developments there.

So for once justice has been done and seen to be done in the full glare of the media – rather than injustice being sneaked out in obscure Parliamentary reports.

So afraid of the Saudis: How the Brits daren’t cancel a contract to bolster barbaric justice

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Jeremy Corbyn has challenged David Cameron to explain why the British government can’t cancel a contract with the Saudis to provide training for their prison system just as it is about to execute a teenage dissident and crucify his body.

The Prime Minister who rightly does not spare a word in condemning Islamic State for its barbarism from throwing gay people off high buildings, and the public beheading of dissidents and hostages, is coy about financing the Saudis to behead its own dissidents or lash its social media bloggers like Raif Badawi.

Michael Gove, the new justice secretary, last week announced he was closing down Just Solutions International, the commercial wing of the Ministry of Justice that was flogging expertise to unsavoury regimes including Oman and the Saudis.

Except  that in its afterlife it will continue with a contract to Saudi Arabia,His decision reverses the policy of his predecessor, Chris Grayling, who was planning to expand its business as a way of raising revenue for the ministry without being particular about which regime’s justice system they were supporting.

The existence of Just Solutions International was revealed earlier on my own blog. So it i is good news that Michael Gove, the new justice secretary,is closing it.

This is a secretive organisation that the ministry refused to reveal any details about – despite admitting there are 2000 emails about its operations. A splendid thorough investigation of the background of the company’s bid for Saudi Arabia has been written up by David Allen Green on his Jack of Kent blog.

I have also written a story for Tribune highlighting how ministers are admitting that the real reason they have not cancelled it is because in Andrew Selous’s words -( he is the junior minister at the Ministry of Justice) – “The critical factor was the strong view from across Government that withdrawing at such an advance stage would harm HMG’s broader engagement with Saudi Arabia.”

This replaced the phoney reason originally given to Parliament which ministers had to withdraw that it couldn’t be cancelled because the government faced penalty clauses. Despite that it is still reported in some media that this is the reason.

This is an appalling situation and the fact that Jeremy Corbyn linked this to the case of teenager Ali Mohammed Baqir al-Nimr who will be beheaded for a ” crime ” he committed when he was 14  deserves highlighting.

He wrote: “Will you step in to terminate the Ministry of Justice’s bid to provide services to the Saudi prisons system – the very body, I should stress, which will be responsible for carrying out Ali’s execution?”

The Labour leader concluded: “Ali’s case is especially urgent – the secrecy of the Saudi system means that he could face execution at any time, and even his family may only find out after the event. There is therefore no time to spare in taking this up with the Saudi authorities, if we are to prevent a grave injustice.”

Not only should he take this up  and the Foreign Office has said it will – but this contract should not go ahead. Britain should not dirty its hands with aiding a regime that imposes such cruel punishments anymore than it should support the Islamic State.

In Britain the National Audit Office ought to look at the setting up of Just Solutions International and decide whether this experiment in commercialising a department was ” value for money”..This should then be taken up by the Commons public accounts committee.

The secrecy around this is totally unjustified and it appears only Parliament can properly investigate it.

Exclusive: Michael Gove faces High Court action over selling legal services to aid Saudi beheaders and torturers

Michael Gove: Facing a High Court challenge over selling services to the Saudis

Michael Gove: Facing a High Court challenge over selling services to the Saudis

Tomorrow the High Court will receive an application from  the Gulf Centre  for Human Rights to bring a judicial review over the Justice Secretary’s decision to bid for commercial work from the Saudi Arabian government because of the regime’s appalling record of public beheadings, torturing dissidents and flogging bloggers like Raif Badawi.

The case against Michael Gove is a legacy from his predecessor Chris Grayling but is linked to an appalling case of torture against a Saudi Arabian -simply known for his own protection as AB.

The Gulf Center, a non governmental organisation based in Beirut and Copenhagen, defends independent journalists, lawyers and bloggers in the Middle East, is applying to take over the case  started by AB after it appears the Ministry of Justice retrospectively removed legal aid from him.

Central to the case is the shadowy and secretive (we know this as it vigorously finds any way not to release information) Just Solutions International, a commercial arm of the Ministry of Justice set up by Chris Grayling.As readers of this blog and those who follow the excellent  Jack of Kent aka lawyer David Allen Green will know – Just Solutions has an unenviable reputation of providing services to dodgy regimes and has a £5.9m bid for Saudi work at the moment.

The centre’s lawyers  want leave from the court to challenge whether the organisation has complied with official Whitehall guidelines before bidding for the contract and also whether Michael Gove or his predecessors  has acted illegally by creating this commercial organisation without any Parliamentary approval.

Their case cites information from  government documents on this blog and Jack of Kent’s blog. We have been separately pursuing the ministry over related issues.What they have found out is that there are no public documents saying that it followed the coalition’s  Overseas Judicial and Security Assistance guidelines.

These restrict all government departments from bidding for work from regimes which breach human rights if the Government’s reputation is damaged or is a serious risk to aiding or significantly increasing human rights abuses.These are spelled out as regimes that unlawfully detain people, have the death penalty, torture people and limit freedom of expression. Saudi Arabia ticks nearly very warning box.

Baroness Anelay: Saudi people want floggings

Baroness Anelay: Saudi people want floggings

Until now the standard response has been that this help is meant to help improve standards. that is until a comment from  foreign office minister Baroness Anelay in reference to the flogging of Raif Badawi in the Lords : ““My Lords, I think we have to recognise that the actions of the Saudi government in these respects have the support of the vast majority of the Saudi population.”

Melanie Gingell, a member of GCHR’s advisory board, said:: “It seems to us that far from improving human rights standards in the detention systems of these  regimes, the UK is more likely to be simply improving the efficiency of the systems within which these notorious abuses are being carried out.  The British public has been horrified by the public beheadings and floggings carried out in Saudi Arabia, and now mirrored by ISIS, and they have a right to know exactly what role the UK government is playing in these systems.”

She added, “We fear that the driving motivation behind these bids is purely commercial, and the veil of secrecy that has been drawn over them simply serves to deepen our concerns that the UK is making money out of the worst aspects of these regimes, that it condemns in public, but is happy to give support to in private.”

Deighton Pierce Glynn Solicitors (DPG) are acting for GCHR.  Adam Hundt, a partner at DPG, stated: “It is surprising that JSi’s activities have taken place shrouded in secrecy, and without parliamentary debate or approval.  If the UK is to sell its public services to regimes that behead people for sorcery, stone women to death and flog people for expressing pro-democracy views, then one would expect our Parliament to be consulted and given the opportunity to impose appropriate parameters on such activities.”

A campaign to crowd fund this action has also been launched by the Gulf Centre for Human Rights. The link is http://www.gofundme.com/saudiprisons 

Internet trolls beware, your prison cell awaits

With growing interest on the abuse of people on the internet, some amazing figures have emerged from the Ministry of Justice showing the huge rise in the number of prosecutions in the last decade.

I am indebted to the pay wall site of Media Lawyer for permission to reproduce much of their findings and to Inforrm blog who have also published the report.

Ten years ago just 143 people were convicted of the crime  to send “by means of a public electronic communications network” a message or other material that is “grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character”.

Last year – the latest figure for convictions had soared to 1209 – an extraordinary eight fold increase.

As Media Lawyer reports:

“The previously little-used section [ Section 127 of the malicious communications act 2003] has come to prominence in recent years following a string of high-profile cases of so-called trolling on social media sites.

It can also cover phone calls and e-mails, and cases of “persistent misuse” which cause the victim annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety.

Ministry of Justice  statistics show that 1,501 defendants – including 70 juveniles – were prosecuted under the Act last year, while another 685 were cautioned.

Of those convicted, 155 were jailed – compared with just seven a decade before. The average custodial sentence was 2.2 months.

Compared with the previous year there was an 18% increase in convictions under Section 127 but the number has dipped since a peak in 2012 when there were 1,423.”

The article adds:

” The issue of online abuse came under scrutiny after cases such as the targeting of Labour MP Stella Creasy, who spoke of the “misery” she suffered caused after a Twitter troll re-tweeted menacing posts threatening to rape her and branding her a “witch”.

Other victims of trolling have included campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez and Chloe Madeley, daughter of Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan.

The MoJ figures also revealed a similar rise in the number of convictions under the Malicious Communications Act, which makes it an offence to send a threatening, offensive or indecent letter, electronic communication or article with the intent to cause distress or anxiety.

Last year, 694 people were convicted of offences under this Act – the highest number for at least a decade and more than 10 times more than the 64 convictions recorded in 2004.”

I have noticed  an increase – since this blog has highlighted  child sexual abuse – in the number of survivors who speak out and then find themselves the target of trolls – sometimes saying they don’t believe their story.

The government  will increase penalties. Media lawyer reports it will increase: “the maximum sentence for trolls convicted under the Malicious Communications Act from six months to two years and extend the time limit for prosecutions under Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 to three years from the commission of offence.”

Obviously there has to be a balance between pursuing people and free speech – with the previous head of the Crown Prosecution Service now a Labour MP, Keith Starmer, saying there must be a ” high threshold” and people practising internet jokes should not be prosecuted. But what is disturbing -and I intend to return to this is that the abuse and misuse of the internet is growing  and there may be a case for even harsher penalties for the most persistent offenders.

Too expensive to reveal: The 2000 Whitehall emails on Just Solutions International

The  secretive and expensive world of the miniistry of justice

The secretive and expensive world of the ministry of justice

Earlier this year this blog disclosed how the Ministry of Justice had  quietly set up a profit making subsidiary with the aim of marketing justice to obnoxious and corrupt regimes like Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia and has now been revealed Macedonia.

This disclosure caused some embarrassment and a lot of anger that the United Kingdom government should be bidding to profit from advising countries like Saudi Arabia who lash bloggers and hold street beheadings which the UK forcibly condemn should the Islamic State do the same. The anger is most eloquently expressed on the blog of lawyer David Allen Green who runs a superb commentary on his Jack of Kent blog.

Naturally I thought it  would be in the public interest to find  out exactly how this rather shadowy body had been set up and what was the ministerial drive behind it.So what better device than the  current Freedom of Information Act to ask the ministry the questions. That was last January .

This was my request:” I would like to request details of all emails and communications between ministers and officials held by the Ministry of Justice and NOMS regarding the establishment of Just Solutions International  under the present coalition government.”

it took the ministry exactly 28 days( the maximum under the act)  to decide that such a request was so broad that they sent me a letter saying they would refuse to proceed with it at all unless I narrowed its scope. They could have told me the next day if it was the case.

So on February 25 I sent an amended request:

“What I would like to request  are documents and communications ( by email) between officials and ( if any) between officials and ministers which led to the creation of Just Solutions International. eg pertaining to  the reason why it was set up and. its role within noms and the ministry.”

It took until late April ( way beyond the 28 day period) to answer with a lovely letter dated xx April 2015 . And guess what evidently Whitehall has so much material debating the creation of Just Solutions International that it is too expensive to send it to me.

According to the letter it exceeds the £600 cost limit and would take civil servants more than three and a half days to find them all.

As their letter says; “In this instance to provide you with the information we would be required to locate emails, which we have estimated exceed 2000, since 2012 which detail the creation of Just Solutions international.”

They have suggested I could narrow down the request a again either to a short time period or by named official ( I don’t have the names of all the officials anyway). However in the spirit of kindly co-operation I have narrowed down the time limit to one year and see if this yields any results. I await the reply  with interest though they have not given me the courtesy of saying they received the request yet.

I suspect that the officials don’t really want to release anything – because the whole volume of correspondence – seems to suggest to me that they had a lot to discuss about why and how this  private profit making company was set up. But there is no reason yet to give up and all the more reason to probe exactly what is behind an initiative that believes making money from dodgy regimes is an ethical revenue earner for the taxpayer.