30 July 2008
SFO wins appeal in BAE-Saudi case as public outrage continues
The Law Lords have this morning upheld an appeal by the Director of the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) against the High Court's ruling that he acted unlawfully in terminating a corruption investigation into BAE Systems' arms deals with Saudi Arabia.
The appeal followed a High Court judgment in April that the SFO, acting on government advice, had dropped the investigation following lobbying by BAE and a threat from Saudi Arabia to withdraw diplomatic and intelligence co-operation if the investigation were not dropped. This judgment was in response to a judicial review brought by the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) and The Corner House.
Nicholas Hildyard of The Corner House said:
"Now we know where we are. Under UK law, a supposedly independent prosecutor can do nothing to resist a threat made by someone abroad if the UK government claims that the threat endangers national security. The unscrupulous who have friends in high places overseas willing to make such threats now have a 'Get Out of Jail Free' card – and there is nothing the public can do to hold the government to account if it abuses its national security powers. Parliament needs urgently to plug this gaping hole in the law and in the constitutional checks and balances dealing with national security. With the law as it is, a government can simply invoke 'national security' to drive a coach and horses through international anti-bribery legislation, as the UK government has done, to stop corruption investigations.”
Symon Hill of CAAT said:
"BAE and the government will be quickly disappointed if they think that this ruling will bring an end to public criticism. Throughout this case we have been overwhelmed with support from people in all walks of life. There has been a sharp rise in opposition to BAE's influence in the corridors of power. Fewer people are now taken in by exaggerated claims about British jobs dependent on the arms trade. The government has been judged in the court of public opinion. The public know that Britain will be a better place when BAE is no longer calling the shots.”
CAAT and The Corner House will issue a more detailed statement following an analysis of the Lords' judgments.
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. For further information, please go to www.controlbae.org, www.caat.org.uk or www.thecornerhouse.org.uk/subject/corruption.
2. The December 2006 decision by the SFO Director to drop its BAE-Saudi investigation caused widespread outrage. 125 MPs from all the main political parties signed an Early Day Motion criticising the decision. Over 130 NGOs, including Amnesty International and Friends of the Earth, have called for the SFO investigation to be reopened. The Foreign Affairs Select Committee of the House of Commons has suggested that the decision may have harmed the UK's international reputation. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is conducting its own inquiry into the issue.
3. The High Court ruled on 10th April 2008 that the decision to drop the investigation was unlawful. It outlined how BAE had lobbied both the SFO and government ministers and how Saudi Arabia had threatened to cancel an arms deal and withdraw diplomatic and intelligence co-operation if the investigation was not dropped. The judges described this as a “successful attempt by a foreign government to pervert the course of justice in the United Kingdom”. The SFO was given permission to appeal. The appeal was heard on 7th - 8th July before an Appellate Committee of five Law Lords (Lord Bingham of Cornhill, Lord Hoffman, Lord Rodger of Earlsferry, Baroness Hale of Richmond, and Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood). The judgments were handed down at 9.45am today in the House of Lords.
Symon Hill (CAAT)
020 7281 0297 or 07990 673 232
Nicholas Hildyard(The Corner House)
01258 473 795 or 07773 750 534