Britain was yesterday accused of ‘caving in to the Saudis’ after the House of Lords overturned the High Court’s ruling that the government broke the law by stopping the corruption investigation into BAE Systems’ Saudi arms deals.
The case had been brought by Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) and legal charity, The Corner House, with widespread support.
The Serious Fraud Office’s appeal was heard by the House of Lords on the 7th and 8th of July and judgement was given on 30th July.
The law lords described the threat made by Saudi Arabia as ‘ugly and obviously unwelcome’, but voted 5-0 in favour of the SFO and the government.
One of the judges, Baroness Hale, said that she would have liked to have been able to say that it was wrong to stop the investigation as it was ‘extremely distasteful that an independent public official should feel himself obliged to give way to threats of any sort.’
However, she said that she had to agree with her colleagues that the decision taken by the SFO Director was lawful.
CAAT said: ‘The judgement means that those with powerful friends prepared to make threats can effectively evade justice, particularly if the threats are couched in terms of national security.
‘The ruling also confirms that the UK government has driven a coach and horses through a key international anti-bribery convention to protect its friends in BAE.’
Nicholas Hildyard of The Corner House said: ‘Now we know where we are. The Law Lords have clarified the law.
‘The implications of the judgement are clear.
‘A prosecutor in Britain, as the law stands, is completely powerless to stand up to threats from abroad where those threats are deemed by the UK government to be a threat to national security.
‘This has huge implications.
‘In effect, those who are unscrupulous and who have powerful friends at home and abroad now have what amounts to a “Get Out of Jail Free” card.
‘That’s a sad day for justice.
‘We certainly caved in to the Saudis.
‘It is about the rule of law, about whether the judiciary in this country is independent, and whether it gives into extortion, particularly from abroad.
‘The ruling of the Law Lords says national security trumps everything.
‘But the national security arguments were never tested in this case and there are concerns about them.
‘One of the things we will be calling for is for far greater parliamentary and judicial oversight and scrutiny of national security claims by the government.
‘We already have the “dodgy dossier” on Iraq, and there are real fears that the national security case that was put forward in this instance didn’t stand up to much.
‘There was much that the government could have done, other than just surrender.’
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 Saudi arms deals.
‘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.’