High Court re-opens Saudi arms corruption investigation

By agency reporter
24 Apr 2008

The High Court today formally quashed the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) decision to drop its corruption investigation into arms deals between BAE Systems and Saudi Arabia. The decision is a huge success for the campaign groups that brought the case.

The decision follows the Court's ruling on 10 April 2008 that the SFO, acting on government advice, acted unlawfully in stopping its investigation in December 2006 following a threat from Saudi Arabia.

The decision to quash was made by Lord Justice Moses and Mr Justice Sullivan, who also today gave the SFO permission to appeal to the House of Lords against their ruling of 10 April.

The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) and The Corner House, recognising the public importance of the legal issues, did not oppose the SFO’s application for permission to appeal.

The judges expressly thanked CAAT and The Corner House for bringing the judicial review of the SFO decision because important matters of public interest would not otherwise have seen the light of day, in particular, privileged access to 10 Downing Street and threats to an independent prosecutor.

In granting the appeal, Lord Justice Moses said that this was a "paradigm case" that concerns "the way this country is governed and a basic constitutional principle".

Mr Justice Sullivan pointed out that the SFO had not identified any grounds for challenging the judgment in law in seeking to appeal. Lord Justice Moses noted that the SFO decision to stop the BAE-Saudi investigation will remain quashed, whatever the outcome of the appeal.

The judges ordered the SFO to pay the costs of the judicial review so far and, recognising the public service that CAAT and The Corner House are performing, also ordered the SFO to pay all the costs of the House of Lords appeal, regardless of the outcome.

CAAT spokesperson Symon Hill said today: "The High Court's quashing of the SFO decision has confirmed that neither BAE nor Saudi Arabia have the right to bully Britain. The Court today pointed out that the case had revealed vital issues about access to Downing Street.

"For the sake of British democracy, security and interest, arms companies' influence in the corridors of power must end. It is increasingly clear that the public will not be fooled by either weak assertions about national security or naive claims about jobs," Hill declared.

Sarah Sexton of The Corner House added: "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, as the High Court has clearly stated. It is now essential that the government abandons its draft legislation to give the attorney-general the power to cancel a criminal investigation or prosecution by claiming 'national security' with no meaningful parliamentary or judicial oversight."

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. For more information, please visit www.controlbae.org; www.caat.org.uk, or www.thecornerhouse.org.uk.

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