22 April 2008
Serious Fraud Office to appeal
The Corner House and Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) are not surprised to learn that the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) will be asking this Thursday for leave to appeal to the House of Lords against the High Court judgment of 10 April that SFO had acted unlawfully by cutting short a corruption investigation into arms deals between BAE Systems and Saudi Arabia.
The judgment followed judicial review of the SFO's decision to stop its BAE-Saudi corruption investigation brought by CAAT and The Corner House. The judgment is of constitutional importance and is ground breaking. We would have appealed ourselves if the judgment had been different. We feel confident that, if the appeal is granted, we will defend it in the House of Lords.
We are concerned, however, that until these issues are resolved in the House of Lords, the government will try to push through its draft Constitutional Renewal Bill. Several clauses in this Bill would give a new power to the Attorney General to prevent a judicial review such as this from happening again, and even the SFO's BAE-Saudi corruption investigation in the first place. If leave to appeal is granted on Thursday, we would strongly urge Parliament to delay its consideration of the Bill until the appeal is heard.
Rather than being preemptive, the SFO's announcement has come quite late in the day. Our lawyers have been asking the SFO for its response since the judgment was handed down on 10 April, so that both sides can negotiate and agree in a fair and balanced way the questions of law the judge will consider at Thursday's hearing.
Thursday's hearing will determine whether or not the judge will grant leave to appeal to the Lords and, if so, on what points of law. These points of law have to be of public importance in order for appeal to be granted. The hearing will also address whether any appeal should be expedited to the House of Lords and the costs of the proceedings to date.
We note that the SFO press release does not state that the court was wrong in its judgment of 10 April, but simply states that the issue is a matter of public importance that should be decided at the highest level.
1. The relief hearing will take place on Thursday 24 April, 10.00am, Royal Courts of Justice, The Strand, London. It is scheduled to last for one hour. Details of the Court number at which the hearing will take place will be published on the Court Service Website by 4.30pm on Wednesday 23rd April. See here.
2. 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. Leigh Day & Co have represented them throughout the judicial review process, along with counsel from Blackstone Chambers.
3. The judgment of the High Court was handed down on 10th April 2008 by Lord Justice Moses and Mr Justice Sullivan, following a judicial review brought by The Corner House and CAAT. They ruled that the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), on the advice of the government, had acted unlawfully by terminating an investigation into BAE's Saudi arms deals on 14th December 2006, following lobbying by BAE and Saudi representatives. The Saudi regime had threatened to cancel an arms deal and withdraw diplomatic and intelligence co-operation. This was described by the judges as a "successful attempt by a foreign government to pervert the course of justice in the United Kingdom".