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 

Ministry of Justice:Flogging prison expertise to Saudi beheaders and floggers

Chris Grayling: Selling British prison expertise to Saudi beheaders and floggers

Chris Grayling: Selling British prison expertise to Saudi beheaders and floggers

The nasty and brutal punishment (1000 lashes) being meted out to Saudi blogger Raif Badawi is rightly being condemned by human rights groups across the world.

What may not be so well-known  is that the British government is currently negotiating to sell prison expertise to the  repressive Saudi judicial regime to make money in order to cut the deficit for the taxpayer.

The man championing this move is none other than Chris Grayling, the justice secretary, well-known for wanting to deny prisoners books and an enthusiastic backer of longer prison sentences and tough prison regimes.

Quietly he has set up a commercial arm of the Ministry of Justice called Just Solutions International. You can download a glossy brochure here.

Mr Grayling is passionate about this. At the launch of the social enterprise he said:

“We are leading the world in our management of offenders and the reforms we are introducing will push us even further ahead of the pack. I’m proud that countries look to us when they want to improve and develop their own systems.”

“This social enterprise will build on our global reputation for innovation while getting best value, as any profits made will be put directly back into improving our own justice system, making it a win-win for hardworking taxpayers.”

What we didn’t know then was where Britain was selling this expertise. However just before Christmas the Ministry of Justice released an interim report on its progress.

It revealed as I report in Tribune :

” JSi submitted a £5.9 million 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.

Also in August, JSi submitted a large-scale bid to the Royal Oman Police (ROP) proposing assistance for the design of a new prison. Discussions are currently taking place with ROP about further learning and development training programmes.”

The document states that Chris Grayling visited Saudi Arabia last September to sign a memorandum of understanding on judicial co-operation with the regime and promote British legal services and Doha in Qatar to promote co-operation. A junior justice minister, Lord Faulks, visited Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan during October, both also seen to be repressive regimes, and signed a memorandum of understanding on judicial co-operation in Kazakhstan.”

I put this to the Ministry of Justice. This was their reply: ” “It is ridiculous to suggest that providing overseas governments with assistance in the development of their criminal justice systems demonstrates support for such atrocious acts. It has been government policy for many years to work with overseas governments and help them develop their criminal justice systems.”

Really! Some people might think the Saudis will be taking comfort from such British support and personal visits from Chris Grayling while continuing these barbaric acts. Also is there not an ethical matter whether the British taxpayer wants the deficit reduced by making profits from a regime that tortures,  publicly beheads ( some 59 in first nine months of last year) and flogs people? It could be said to amount to blood money.

Frankly it suggests that Mr Grayling’s main aim is making money and he couldn’t care about the regimes who pay us and how they treat their own citizens. It also hypocritical. we are condemning ISIS for the same practices. Would Mr Grayling – if ISIS win – be happy to flog them the same British help for running their justice system in the Islamic state?

Also just how wonderful is the British prison system that we are selling. If you look at reports from the Howard League for Penal Reform we have huge problems with overcrowding, suicides and a repressive attitude by Grayling himself. Do we want to export that?

I am wondering how ridiculous the blogger Raif will think it is that the  system that incarcerates and flogs him benefits from British expertise to make money. I also wonder whether Mr Grayling – a  cold hard right Tory – was or is  a supporter of hanging and flogging himself.

Since this blog was published The Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, defended to the BBC the sale of British prisons expertise to Saudi Arabia.

Speaking to Andrew Neil one the Sunday Politics Mr Grayling said: “It is right and proper that we as a nation try to work with other nations to improve their systems.”

 Saudi Arabia has been widely criticised, including by the British Government, for sentencing the blogger Raif Badawi to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in jail.  Mr Grayling said he “completely condemns” the punishment.

He added: “This is something I am looking at very carefully.”

Amnesty International campaign poster for rasif Badawi

Amnesty International campaign poster for Raif Badawi