Campaigners take on arms giant in high court review

By staff writers
14 Feb 2008

The High Court will today hear the judicial review of the Serious Fraud Office's decision to end its investigation into alleged corruption by BAE Systems in recent Saudi arms deals. Campaigners want to bring the arms giant to account.

The two-day hearing will take place before Lord Justice Moses and Mr Justice Sullivan and is being brought by Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) and the environment and social justice NGO, The Corner House.

Symon Hill from Campaign Against Arms Trade told Ekklesia: "We're overwhelmed with the support and encouragement we've received from people in all sectors of society. This isn't just a case for CAAT and The Corner House. It is for everyone who cares about democracy, real security, sound economics and the nature of Britain."

He added: "The vast majority of people do not want to see arms dealers placed above the law which the rest of us have to follow. I'm confident that we'll walk into court with public opinion behind us."

The Director of the Serious Fraud Office (SFO)[2}, Robert Wardle, announced on 14 December 2006 that he had decided to discontinue the investigation following advice from government Ministers.

He justified his decision on the grounds that continuing the investigation would damage the UK's relations with Saudi Arabia and thus threaten the UK’s national security.

Saudi Arabia had threatened to cancel a proposed order for BAE's Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft and to withdraw security, intelligence and diplomatic co-operation with the UK if the investigation continued.

Documents released on 21 December 2007 as part of the judicial review proceedings indicate that the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, intervened with the then Attorney General[2], Lord Goldsmith, to stop the investigation, specifically raising the “critical issue” of the typhoon deal.

CAAT and The Corner House lawyers will argue that the decision to discontinue the investigation was unlawful because it contravenes the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention [3] and because the Director of the Serious Fraud Office, in allowing threats/blackmail to influence his decision, did not uphold the "rule of law"[4].

They will also argue that Tony Blair's advice amounted to a direction to discontinue the investigation, which is an unlawful interference with the independence of prosecutors under UK and international law.[5]

The Government has denied any breach of the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention – but has declared that it would have taken the decision to terminate the investigation, regardless of international law, on the grounds of “national security”.

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. For more information on the legal challenge, go to http://www.controlbae.org; http://www.caat.org, or http://www.thecornerhouse.org.uk

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