The House of Lords will this week hear the Serious Fraud Office's appeal against the High Court's recent decision on a BAE corruption investigation. The appeal will begin at 10.00am tomorrow (Monday 7th July) and last for two days.
The High Court ruled on 10th April that the Serious Fraud Office, acting on government advice, had behaved unlawfully in terminating its investigation into alleged corruption in BAE's Saudi arms deals. The ruling was the result of a judicial review brought by The Corner House and the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT).
Nicholas Hildyard of The Corner House said:
"We remain confident of the strength of our case in the House of Lords. The principle that no one is above the law is fundamental to justice."
Symon Hill of CAAT said:
"People from all walks of life have been outraged that the UK government should place the demands of BAE and the Saudi regime ahead of British justice. The High Court shared their shock at the decision to stop the investigation. We go into the House of Lords with a very strong case and with public opinion behind us."
1. The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) works for the reduction and ultimate abolition of the international arms trade. The Corner House is an environmental and social justice NGO. Solicitors Leigh Day & Co have represented them throughout the judicial review process, along with counsel from Blackstone Chambers and Matrix Chambers . For a time line of the judicial review, including links to arguments presented and key legal documents and evidence, please go to www.controlbae.org/jr
2. The Serious Fraud Office is a UK government department that investigates and prosecutes complex fraud. It aims to contribute to "the delivery of justice and the rule of law.”
3. High Court ruling The High Court ruled on 10th April 2008 that
* The Director of the Serious Fraud Office had failed to exercise his independent judgment in halting the investigation.
* The Director had failed to convince the court that he had done all in his power to resist the threat in order to uphold the rule of law.
The threat was from Saudi Arabia to cancel an arms deal and withdraw diplomatic and intelligence co-operation if the investigation was not stopped. Click for PDF of the full judgment.
4. Basis of appeal On 24th April 2008, the High Court gave the SFO permission to appeal to the House of Lords against their ruling on two principles of law: the rule of law and compliance with the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention. The SFO Director is asking the House of Lords to determine how the UK Courts should apply these principles when assessing whether a prosecutor's decision to stop an investigation as a result of threats of adverse consequences made by powerful persons if it is not stopped is legal or not.
5. CAAT and The Corner House submission CAAT and The Corner House lawyers will maintain that the Serious Fraud Office Director's appeal should be dismissed because his decision to stop the SFO investigation into alleged corruption by BAE Systems in recent arms deals with Saudi Arabia breached the constitutional principle of the rule of law in allowing threats/blackmail to influence his decision, and breached Article 5 of the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention.
6. The rule of law The "rule of law" simply means the best way of protecting everyone's rights from the arbitrary exercise of power is to apply and uphold legal rules impartially. Doing so requires an independent judiciary (prosecutors, judges, magistrates, courts) that acts "without fear, favour or prejudice". Any action that undermines the impartial application and upholding of the law undermines the rule of law.
7. OECD Anti-Bribery Convention The OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Officials in International Business Transactions (known as the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention) is a multilateral treaty aiming to ensure that all OECD countries present a combined and united front against bribery and corruption of foreign public officials. Article 1 of the Convention requires parties to make it a criminal offence to bribe a foreign public official, which the UK did in Section 109 of the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001. Article 5 of the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention makes various provisions to enforce Article 1. It rules out the termination of corruption investigations on grounds other than the merits of the case. Signatory governments undertake not to be influenced "by the potential effect [of an investigation or prosecution] upon relations with another State." Article 5 also prevents signatories from being "influenced by considerations of national economic interest" in deciding whether to terminate an investigation.
Symon Hill (CAAT)
020 7281 0297 or 07990 673 232
Nicholas Hildyard(The Corner House)
01258 473 795 or 07773 750 534