14 April 2008

Will the rule of law triumph in the UK?

Last year, before Tony Blair stepped down as British PM, one of his last acts was to terminate an investigation into allegations of corruption between BAE Systems, a British arms manufacturer, and the Saudi Arabian government. BAE was alleged to have had a huge slush fund for buying the support of Saudi officials. Blair insisted that allowing Britain's Serious Fraud Office (SFO) to pursue an investigation would threaten -- what else? -- national security.

Two private organizations, the Corner House Research Group and the Campaign Against Arms Trade, challenged the decision, claiming serious bribery of senior Saudi officials had occurred. British judges have now ruled in favour of the challenge, stating they were not convinced the SFO had done its utmost to uphold the rule of law and had, therefore, acted illegally in ending the investigation. Lord Justice Moses declared,"No one, whether within this country or outside, is entitled to interfere with the course of our justice."

Sadly, Gordon Brown is proving no better than his predecessor. Only weeks before the judges handed down their decision, his government introduced draft legislation that would allow the attorney general to halt prosecutions on the basis of national security. Such decisions would be strictly in the hands of cabinet with judicial reviews virtually impossible. The attorney general would not be obligated to provide information to parliament that affects national security or international relations. George W. Bush must be proud of his British colleague.

Nonetheless, the investigation into the grubby BAE/Saudi affair may have to be reopened. The rule of law in the UK may yet triumph over Tony Blair, commercial interests and Britain's collaboration with one of the world's more sordid dictatorships.

1 comment:

  1. Very important investigation, in the U.S. as well, although the same games are likely being played there. Thanks for the heads-up.