The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) has called on the Prime Minister to end his silence on a High Court ruling on BAE Systems that took place nearly a week ago.
The court ruled on 10th April that the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) had acted unlawfully by cutting short a corruption investigation into BAE's Saudi arms deals after the government received a threat from the Saudi regime.
Gordon Brown has so far failed to comment publicly on the issue, but there were newspaper reports that he and Conservative leader David Cameron were doing a behind-the-scenes deal to try to thwart future corporate investigations that might be embarrassing to the government or its big business friends.
CAAT, who brought the case along with anti-corruption NGO The Corner House, has now written directly to the Prime Minister, urging him to make clear that he will not stand in the way of the investigation continuing. CAAT believes that the inquiry is a matter for the SFO, whose decisions should be free of interference from Downing Street.
CAAT's letter follows calls for the investigation to be reopened from across the political spectrum. Supporters of such a move include Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats and a number of Labour MPs such as Roger Berry, chair of the Committees on Arms Export Controls.
The letter, signed by CAAT's Parliamentary Co-ordinator Ann Feltham, states:
"We are, of course, delighted that the judges ruled in our favour and spoke out so strongly in support of the rule of law, but remain disappointed that we needed to resort to legal action to allow a criminal investigation to continue. CAAT asks you to place the rule of law and the UK's reputation above the interests of an international arms company and that you make a commitment that there will be no further government interference in the SFO investigation into BAE's arms deals with Saudi Arabia."
In the light of the judgment, CAAT has also urged Gordon Brown to reconsider a proposal in the Constitutional Renewal Bill which would give the Attorney-General the power to stop criminal investigations by citing "national security", without the decision being subjected to meaningful consideration by Parliament or the courts.
The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) works for the reduction and ultimate abolition of the international arms trade. CAAT has thousands of supporters across and beyond the UK and receives 80% of its funding from individual supporters' donations.
The High Court ruled on Thursday 10 April 2008 that the Serious Fraud Office, acting on advice from government, had acted unlawfully by cutting short a corruption investigation into BAE Systems' arms deals with Saudi Arabia. The judges detailed how BAE and the Saudi regime lobbied the government and how the Saudi prince Bandar threatened to cancel the latest arms deal and withdraw diplomatic co-operation if the investigation was not stopped. This was described by the judges as a "successful attempt by a foreign government to pervert the course of justice in the United Kingdom".
The Constitutional Renewal Bill was published by the government on 25 March 2008. Clause 12 empowers the Attorney-General to direct a prosecutor to discontinue an investigation or prosecution if he/she considers this is necessary to safeguard 'national security', which is not defined.