Grayling: the Lord Chancellor who told the High Court to disregard the Rule of Law

1 April 2015 (pm)

Today is the birthday of the current Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Chris Grayling.  

With parliament dissolved and with a general election just weeks away, he may not be in post, or indeed in any ministerial office, much longer.  But that did not stop the High Court giving him a sort of birthday present.

In a judgment handed down today the High Court held that yet again the Ministry of Justice under Grayling had acted unlawfully.  

It may seem strange to some that the very government department running the court system of England and Wales would ever be held to have acted unlawfully.  Indeed, the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice has a duty recognised by statute to uphold the rule of law.  But during Grayling’s time at the department, the Ministry of Justice has repeatedly been found to have acted unlawfully.  

And today, on his birthday, came from the High Court another judgment that the Ministry of Justice had acted unlawfully, with a very telling passage.

The case was about whether Grayling could ignore the Ministry of Justice’s own statutory “Directions” (rules formally made under a statutory provision) when forcing a change of policy about the treatment of prisoners.

The High Court, unsurprisingly to anyone with a basic understanding of public law (in essence, the law which regulates activities of public bodies) held that it was not open to the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice to simply ignore Directions made under a statutory provision.

But in a revealing paragraph, the High Court detailed what the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice had instructed a barrister to make as a key submission: 

54. Mr Weisselberg’s principal submission in response on this issue in oral argument was as concise as it was striking. The Directions were issued by the Secretary of State. He has the power to amend or revoke them; therefore he has the power to ignore or contradict them. They are not directions to him but by him, and he cannot be bound by them.

This was a remarkable submission.  The judge described it as “striking” (which is judge-speak for “utterly bizarre”).    It is dismissed with ease by the court:

55. We cannot accept this submission. The Secretary of State could indeed amend or revoke the Directions to the [Parole] Board. But so long as they remain in force they are binding on the Board and also binding on the Secretary of State, in the sense that he cannot lawfully tell the Board to ignore them or his officials to frustrate them.

The current Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice appears to believe that because he makes the rules, it is perfectly fine for him to break the rules.

One problem with this approach is that the rule of law works both ways: you can hardly insist that others should abide by the law if you are happy to casually “ignore or contradict” the law.  Another problem is that it shows a serious lack of understanding of the nature of statutory provisions: he could not simply tell his civil servants to “ignore or contradict” Directions he had made under a statutory provision.

In a junior minister all this would be a deplorable attitude.  But in the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, it is a disgrace.

Grayling may well shrug at yet another court defeat, especially as he will “move on” soon.

But paragraph 54 of today’s judgment will provide a lasting memorial to his period in this historic office: the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice who, in all seriousness, one day told the High Court to disregard the rule of law.

The disgraceful letter from the Ministry of Justice to The Howard League

22 March 2015

This is a remarkable letter:

Noms letter1

 

It is also a shocking and discrediting letter; and it is not surprising that Frances Crook’s simple tweet on Friday afternoon about receiving it has now been re-tweeted some 2,000 times.

And, for once, it appears G4S cannot be blamed – on Friday they were quick to tweet that they were happy for their prisons to be visited: 

That is was G4S’ own invitation has been confirmed by Frances Crook in a post at Politics.Co.UK:

I met a senior staffer from G4S in the studio of the BBC Radio 4 Today programme a few weeks ago when we were putting forward different views on privatisation and he invited me to visit Oakwood and Birmingham to see for myself. I was due to visit next week and had bought my train tickets.

It was therefore a bit of a shock to get the letter from Noms saying they were banning me.

So unless that invitation was insincere (and that G4S banked on it being over-ruled by the Ministry of Justice), the dis-invitation is entirely the responsibility of the Ministry of Justice.  

And taking the Ministry of Justice letter at face value, there would seem no operational or other objectively sound reason why Frances Crook could not visit the prison.  The excuse given is simply that she had expressed views (“made comments”) about private prisons.  

The whole point about organizations such as The Howard League is that they “make comments” about prisons, whether they be in the public or private sector.

And if Frances Crook and The Howard League are wrong about private prisons, then what better way of showing this is there other than allowing visits to those prisons?

In respect of the prisons in question, there was good reason for The Howard League to take an interest.  As Frances Crook has explained:

The Howard League has opposed the principle of privatising prisons since it was first mooted in 1992. The concern is ethical, based on the distaste of making a profit from punishment. The most dreadful thing we can do to a person is take away their freedom and that responsibility must rest with the state.

In many cases our worries have been justified as private prisons have had the same, and in some cases, worse problems than public sector establishments. The suicide rate is the same, the levels of violence and assaults is the same. The innovation has tended to be technological and introduced in order to save staff time, the best example being telephones in cell and automatic visit booking systems.

When G4S-run Oakwood opened it suffered horrendous problems. The chief inspector famously said it was easier to get drugs than soap.  Birmingham prison was the first Victorian prison to be taken over by the private sector.

This dis-invitation is not only a dreadful circumstance on its own terms; it also is part of worrying trend.  Journalists and researchers are not allowed to visit prisons in England and Wales.  And the current independently minded chief prisons’ inspector has been effectively sacked.

Authoritarian politicians are fond of stating that if someone has nothing to hide they have nothing to fear.  If that is so, then what do those same politicians have to fear from opening up the prisons to proper inspection and investigation?

This letter to Frances Crook is a disgrace.  But the wider refusal to allow the prisons of England and Wales to receive any independent scrutiny is a scandal.

 

 

MoJ refuses to disclose details of its commercial proposal to the Saudi state

The below has been received from the Ministry of Justice. It is a refusal to disclose anything to do with the MoJ’s proposal to provide services on a commercial basis to the Saudi state.

 

Freedom of Information Request

Dear Mr Green,

 Thank you for your email of 16 January in which you requested the following information from the Ministry of Justice:

Can I please have all documents relating to the proposal of NOMS to the Saudi Arabian government referred to at page 6 of https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/391930/ministry-of-justice-mid-year-report-to-parliament-2014-15.pdf

 Please can I have all documents provided to and from a Minister in respect of the above proposal.

Your request has been handled under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

I can confirm that the Ministry of Justice holds information that you have requested, but in this case we will not be providing it to you as it is exempt from disclosure under section 41(1) and section 43(2) of the Act.

Section 41(1)

The information held by the Ministry of Justice includes documents supplied in confidence by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) in relation to the proposal, and we believe that their disclosure would create an actionable breach of confidence. We are not obliged to provide information that has been provided in confidence to the department (section 41(1) of the Act). The terms of this exemption in the Act mean that we do not have to consider whether or not it would be in the public interest for you to have the information.

Section 43(2)

The Ministry of Justice is not obliged to provide information where we believe that disclosing the information would be likely to prejudice the commercial interests of any person including the department which holds it (section 43(2) of the Act).

In particular, the Ministry of Justice is in an ongoing competitive process with its proposal to the KSA, and the bid and related documents contain commercially confidential information. Disclosure of the information would be likely to disrupt the negotiation process and have an adverse impact on the bid.

In line with the terms of this exemption in the Freedom of Information Act, we have also considered whether it would be in the public interest for us to provide you with the information, despite the exemption being applicable. When assessing whether or not it was in the public interest to disclose the information to you, we took into account the following factors:

Public interest considerations favouring disclosure

There is a public interest in knowing how and why the Ministry of Justice enters into commercial relations with overseas countries and which countries these are.

Public interest considerations favouring withholding the information

Disclosure would be likely to prejudice the commercial interests of the Ministry of Justice by affecting adversely:

- its negotiating position in the ongoing Just Solutions International (JSi) bid process with KSA;

- the prospects of a successful outcome for the JSi bid with KSA due to the likely negative impact that would result from disclosure on the evaluation of the bid by the Saudi Arabian authorities; and

- future commercial (JSi) bids with other overseas governments and agencies seeking justice assistance from JSi if details of the Saudi Arabian bid were disclosed which, in turn, is likely to have a detrimental effect on the future commercial prospects for JSi.

We have concluded that, on balance, the public interest is better served by withholding this information under section 43(2).

You can find out more about sections 41 and 43 by reading the extracts from the Act, and some guidance points we consider when applying these exemptions, at the end of this letter.

You can also find more information by reading the full text of the Act, available at http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2000/36/contents.

You have the right to appeal our decision if you think it is incorrect. Details can be found in the How to Appeal section at the end of this letter.

Disclosure Log

​You can also view information that the Ministry of Justice has disclosed in response to previous Freedom of Information requests. Responses are anonymised and published on our online disclosure log which can be found on the MoJ website: https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/ministry-of-justice/series/freedom-of-information-disclosure-log.

Yours sincerely

[  ]

 

 

__________________________

 

Just Solutions international: a timeline

10 February 2015

Last updated: 10 February 2015

This timeline sets out and links to the public domain information about  the shadowy and curious “Just Solutions international” (“JSi” – complete with gimmicky lower-case “i”).  

This timeline is intended to complement my substantive posts on JSi and will be updated from time to time.

 

2004

The Home Office publish the Carter Review, Managing Offenders, Reducing Crime: A New Approach.

The Carter Review proposess the “establishment of a National Offender Management Service – restructuring the Prison and Probation Services – with a single Chief Executive accountable to Ministers for punishing offenders and reducing re-offending”.

And so the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) is created, in effect combining the prison service and the probation service.

 

2008

NOMS is restructured and re-established as an executive agency of the Ministry of Justice.

The Ministry of Justice retains responsibility for “strategic oversight” of policy and direction and NOMS is expected to commission and provide services which deliver to a specified framework.

 

2010

Coalition takes office.  Kenneth Clarke QC MP becomes Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice.

 

2012

According to LinkedIn, NOMS personnel date that their JSi positions started in 2012.  One individual, who I will not name here, has on his LinkedIn profile:

CEO

Just Solutions International

– Present (2 years 8 months)London

Leadership of Just Solutions International to allow the sharing of best practice in prison and probation services with other Governments and agencies.

 He also describes himself as:

Head of Commercial Development

UK Ministry of Justice

– Present (3 years 11 months)UK

Commercial activity including development and sale of innovative Criminal Justice Systems – Includes IT based payment by results, case and contract management systems; consultancy and programmes on all aspects of offender work

 

July 2012

There is no (express) mention of Just Solutions international in the 2011-12 Annual Report of Ministry of Justice (for year ending 31 March 2012).

 

September 2012

Chris Grayling replaces Clarke to become Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

 

October 2012

The JSi web domain was registered on 4 October 2012.

 

June 2013

There is no mention of Just Solutions international in the 2012-13 Annual Report of Ministry of Justice (for year ending 31 March 2013).

 

July 2013

On 3 July 2013 JSi is discussed on the PricewaterhouseCoopers blog.  Other than (perhaps) LinkedIn pages, this is the first public mention of JSi.

The blogpost says:

Another example currently sits within the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), which is exploring an option to establish a not-for-profit organisation to market its expertise in Justice internationally. The new operation, Just Solutions International (JSi), will re-invest any surplus into research that supports the work of NOMS.

Because spending cuts have diminished the budget available for this research, JSi is an example not only of government earning income on its IP, but also of it using that income to maintain a high standard of service delivery.

In January 2015, neither MoJ nor PwC were able to explain how PwC knew so much about JSi as early as July 2013.

 

October 2013

On 9 October 2013, Grayling refers to JSi in a speech to the World Probation Congress.  This seems to be the first mention of JSi by a government minister.

According to the official speech, Grayling says:

The last few years have seen a major advance in the United Kingdom in our expertise in finding ways of managing offenders and re-assimilating them into society.

Integrated Offender Management, for example, is a new way of seeking to prevent re-offending and promote rehabilitation. Governments from around the world are coming to us for assistance on justice matters, looking to take advantage of the knowledge, skills and expertise we have developed.

We are committed to supporting those countries in the development of their criminal justice systems, working in liaison with UK Trade and Investments, the Department for International Developments and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

In response to this interest from around the world, we are setting up Just Solutions International – a social enterprise – to enable this service to be delivered in a commercial manner.

It will be able to make available knowledge and expertise relating to offender management services to organisations in other countries that work with offenders. The new body is currently being piloted and we are looking to launch it in April 2014.

Our intention is that Just Solutions will be able to provide you with access to all the services you will hear about during this conference, including, to name but a few: – development and improvement of probation services; – prison estates, prison design, prison building and procurement; – cutting-edge electronic monitoring systems; and – payment-by-results and reducing re-offending mechanisms.

 

January 2014

There is no mention of JSi in the (first) so-called “mid-year report” of MoJ to Parliament, coverning MoJ activity from April to September 2013 .

 

February 2014

JSi is referred to (though not named) in the UKTI Security Exports Strategy of 2014 (host web page).

Page 19:

Ministry of Justice (MOJ) and National Offender Management Service (NOMS) Supports capacity for design and prison build across overseas prison services. Provides justice assistance consultancy services alongside learning and development opportunities and interventions via the Prison Service training college. . NOMS will work with UKTI to identify trade opportunities arising from this work. . NOMS will work with UKTI to identify trade opportunities arising from this work.

Page 25:

Offender management

The UK offender management capability is based on the principles of holding prisoners securely, reducing the risk of prisoners re-offending and providing safe and well-ordered establishments and solutions in which we treat those convicted of offences humanely, decently and lawfully.

The custody estate in the UK consists of adult prisons, young offenders institutions and secure training centres. The majority of these are run by the Prison Service but the UK also has significant experience in terms of privately run prisons and detention centres.

Community sentencing has been used widely in the UK and offender monitoring systems, managed by private security companies (reporting breaches to police) are well established.

 

March 2014

The JSi brochure appears to have been created on “Thu 06 Mar 2014 11:35:13 GMT”.

By coincidence, the JSi brochure also happens to use exactly the same distinctive “legal disclaimer” language as the glossy brochures of PricewaterhouseCoopers.

 

April 2014

This is the date stated in Grayling’s October 2013 speech for the formal launch of JSi. There appears to be no public statement in respect of the launch.

 

June 2014

There is no mention of Just Solutions international in the 2013-14 Annual Report of Ministry of Justice (for year ending 31 March 2014).

 

August 2014

According to the December 2014 mid-year report (see below), JSi submit “a £5.9m proposal to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Ministry of Finance to conduct a training needs analysis across all the learning and development programmes within the Saudi Arabian Prison Service”.

We are also are told later that “[a]lso in August, JSi submitted a large scale bid to the Royal Oman Police (ROP) proposing assistance for the design of a new prison. Discussions are currently taking place with ROP about further learning and development training programmes”.

 

September 2014

Grayling signs a “Memorandum of Understanding” with the Saudi government.

The MoJ have since refused to disclose what the Memorandum of Justice contains.

 

December 2014

In December 2014 comes the first express mention of JSi in any official MoJ document – the (second) so-called “mid-year report” of the Ministry of Justice , covering April to September 2014:

 Just Solutions international (JSi), is the commercial brand for the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) promoting products and services to international justice markets.

In August 2014, JSi submitted a £5.9m proposal to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Ministry of Finance to conduct a training needs analysis across all the learning and development programmes within the Saudi Arabian Prison Service.

Also in August, JSi submitted a large scale bid to the Royal Oman Police (ROP) proposing assistance for the design of a new prison. Discussions are currently taking place with ROP about further learning and development training programmes”. 

JSi has also recently won a bid to the value of £848k (€1,071k) to provide support with the development of a Probation Service in Macedonia.

 

The shadow Lord Chancellor Sadiq Khan begins to take an interest, and he asks the following written question

Sadiq Khan (Tooting): To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, what contracts his Department has awarded to Just Solutions International in each of the last five years; what the value and length of each such contract is; and with whom in his Department each such contract was signed.

And he also asks:

Sadiq Khan (Tooting): To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, whether Just Solutions International is a contractor or a sub-contractor in the current electronic monitoring contract.

 As of 10 February 2015, I cannot trace answers to these questions.

 

January 2015

Sadiq Khan asks the following written question

Sadiq Khan (Tooting): To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, which countries Just Solutions International (JSI) has worked with since it was established; what contracts it has with foreign companies; what visits Ministers in his Department have made relating to JSI; and what payments JSI has received from foreign contracts.

[Add 10 Februray 2015] This was answered on 10 February 2015 as follows:

Just Solutions International (JSi) is a brand within the National Offender Management Service (NOMS). Over the last two years, NOMS has worked with the following countries, some of them under the JSi brand. As the NOMS commercial work through the JSi brand is not separated out from non-commercial international work, the list below simply indicates where a charge to the country or the EU was applied (*). This does not include visits by other Governments to the UK for purposes of information exchange:

Pakistan

Libya

Oman (*)

Seychelles (*)

Nigeria

Macedonia

Bermuda (*)

Cayman Islands (*)

China (*)

Kosovo (*)

Turkey (*)

NOMS does not have any contracts with foreign companies related to commercial work routed through the JSi brand and has not previously entered into any nor received payments relating to such contracts.

No Ministerial visits abroad have been arranged to support NOMS’ commercial work.

Specifics of payments for commercial contracts delivered cannot be provided as they are commercially sensitive.

Part of the rationale for our work with other countries is to impact positively on human rights practices. We believe that by bringing our standards on issues such as human rights into international delivery we will improve detention practices. Our correctional services provide a gold standard in human rights, and are well viewed by other Governments who take a similar view to us on the paramount importance of the protection and promotion of human rights. When other countries approach us for assistance, we are clear that we will only offer advice and support that complies with our own stringent human rights standards.

It has been government policy for many years to work with overseas governments and help them develop their criminal justice systems.

 

Khan also asks the following written question:

Sadiq Khan (Tooting): To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, what Just Solutions International’s operating profit or loss has been in each of the last five years.

The latter question was answered on 8 January 2015:

Just Solutions International is not a trading body but is part of the National Offender Management Service. It does not therefore make separate profits or losses.

 

The public flogging of a writer in Saudi Arabia prompts interest in JSi’s commercial proposal to the Saudis.

Somebody spots the mention in the December 2014 mid-year report and alerts journalist David Hencke.  On 10 January 2015, Hencke reports on the Saudi commercial proposal at Tribune and then later on 16 January 2015 on his own blog.

 

18 January 2015 – Grayling is asked about the proposed Saudia deal by Andrew Neil on the Sunday Politics.  Grayling says: “It is right and proper that we as a nation try to work with other nations to improve their systems.” and “This is something I am looking at very carefully.”

 

20 January 2015 – my FT post on the proposed Saudi deal.

 

23 January 2015, the MoJ press office having refused to answer my intiial questions on JSi, provide the following answers:

1. Can I please have a copy of the MoU signed between the Secretary of State and Saudi – https://twitter.com/UKinSaudiArabia/status/510040242481799168/photo/1

A) This is a shared document with the Saudi government so we are not in a position to publish it at present.

2. Can I please have a copy of the commercial proposal put to the Saudis

A) This is a bid that is under consideration in a competitive process and contains commercially confidential information.

3. Can you provide full details to what is to be offered to the Saudis under the commercial proposal

A) See answer 2. What we can say is that the bid relates to scoping of staff training and organisational design only.

4. Can you provide set out the extent of the civil service resources which are to be used in the proposal

A) If approved the bid will be fully funded by the client Government, will not cost the British tax payer a single penny and will generate a surplus to be used to support our own services.

5. When is the proposal expected to be signed?

A) Our bid is under consideration and may not be successful. We do not know the timing of bid evaluation and decision making – this depends on the pace of the Saudi Procurement process.

6. What is the answer to Amnesty’s questions as follows: Beyond the usual aspirational language, can Chris Grayling demonstrate that Just Solutions international will actually be able to concretely improve detention practices in Saudi Arabia without becoming complicit in abuse? For example, is JSi going to be challenging and seeking to prevent abuses when it comes across malpractice, and indeed what human rights safeguards and training are going to be built into any programme?

A) We believe that by bringing our standards on issues such as human rights into international delivery we will improve detention practices. We should recognise that our correctional services are well viewed by other Governments who also understand our approach to human rights. When other countries approach us for assistance therefore they do so in full knowledge that we will only offer advice and support that complies with our own human rights standards. We have already seen and challenged practice in other countries and have been instrumental in the change of practice in other countries.

7. What is the current budget for JSi?

A) Any commercial work undertaken by NOMS falls within the overall NOMS budget. The aim is that it covers the costs of NOMS commercial and other international work and generates a surplus to invest in our own services.

8. Other than the mid-term report, what mention has there been of JSi in any official publications?

A) There is a reference to JSi in the UKTI Security Exports Strategy (2014)

9. What is the headcount for JSi?

A) NOMS has a team which covers international work and externally funded programmes. Some of the Civil Servants in this team will also deliver the Commercial work as well as the non-commercial part of the job.

10. Who paid for the “.com” website for JSi and why is it not a “.gov.uk” website?

A) Hosting is funded by income generated and the website development was done by internal NOMS staff. The decision to create an external site was made as a result of an accreditation process that required a web presence that is separate to the MoJ site.

11. Why has the Secretary of State now said he is looking at the Saudi proposal carefully? What does this mean in practice?

A) All international activity considered by NOMS is subject to a careful assessment process and sign off by MoJ; FCO and our local Embassies. This includes an assessment about whether our possible activity would improve human rights outcomes. This process was completed prior to our bid to Saudi. We would expect to repeat this process if the Saudi Government decided to offer NOMS the contract. In that case the Secretary of State would have the opportunity to review the earlier decision in the light of current issues and considerations. The final decision may be to continue to contract (should it be offered) or to withdraw from the process.

12. Can you set out the commercial experience/expertise of those engaged in the JSi project? A quick look at open-source sources reveals little or no commercial experience/expertise at all;

A) Within the Unit delivering this we have a range of people with private sector and commercial background.

13. can you identify all private sector organisations/consultancies involved in the JSi project.

A) None currently

In your correspondence with [civil servant] you also raised the issue of the Cornerhouse [sic] case and asked whether it is appropriate for the Lord Chancellor and the MoJ to be entering into a commercial relationship with the Saudi state. Here is a statement on that particular issue:

A MoJ spokesperson said:
“The British Government’s position on human rights is a matter of public record and we regularly raise our human rights concerns with the Saudi Arabian authorities at the highest level. No aspect of our commercial relationships prevents us from speaking frankly and openly to them about these or other issues.”

 

25 January 2015 – my detailed Jack of Kent post on the conflict of interest caused by the proposed Saudi deal.

 

Hencke does a further post on 26 January 2015.

 

Follow-on pieces also at the Independent, Observer, and Mail online.

 

27 January 2015 – MoJ refuse to answer any further questions on JSi.

 

28 January 2015 – Amnesty International write to MoJ.

 

February 2015

The following exchange takes place at oral questions for the Secretary of State to Justice on 3 February 2015:

Sadiq Khan (Tooting) (Lab): We already know how little the Justice Secretary thinks of our international human rights obligations, given that he wants to repeal the British Human Rights Act and walk away from the European convention on human rights. What is the Ministry of Justice’s motivation for signing a £5.9 million contract with a country whose justice system is widely condemned for the use of torture—which is what a sentence of 1,000 lashes amounts to—and of execution by beheading?

Chris Grayling: We have not signed a contract. Under this Government and under the last one, our Departments have worked with other Governments around the world to try to encourage improvements and best practice in their justice systems. I believe that that is the right thing to do. We should try to influence countries to move their justice systems in the right direction, and we will continue to do that.

Sadiq Khan: I look forward to hearing about the best practice for beheading.

 

Sadiq Khan also asks the following written question

Sadiq Khan (Tooting): To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, what consultant, non-executive directors and associates have worked with Just Solutions International since it was established; when each such person was appointed; and what the remuneration of each such person for that work is.

 

Footnote: LinkedIn evidence on the range of JSi activity

Other than the JSi brochure and website, there is public domain information on the activities of JSI on the LinkedIn profiles of JSi “directors”.  This cannot be dated exactly (at least by me).  I do not propose to link to the pages of individual JSi staff, but the information is as follows.

According to the 2015 LinkedIn profile of one “director” of JSi:

Just Solutions International (JSi) is the commercial vehicle for the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) that provides access to the knowledge, skills and intellectual property of the Ministry of Justice in England and Wales. JSi that we can scope and develop solutions for governments and criminal justice agencies across the world.

Using the success achieved in modernising the justice system in the UK we have successfully developed and delivered programmes in the Middle East, North Africa and the Caribbean. Using staff and other resources from the UK MoJ and the National Offender Management Service and our partners our offer is broad and tailored to our customers and partners, and can span the following:

- Consultancy based advice and review of current prison or community corrections/probation services;

- Reducing Reoffending programme design including payment by results; offender learning and employment; offence-specific interventions;

- Benchmarking to ensure that costs of prisons and community sentences services are understood and providing value for money;

- Staff learning and development in prison and community justice/probation services;

- Prison and police cell design and estates management systems;

- Procurement systems and supply chain management;

- IT based offender risk assessment and case management to Governments and Justice providers outside the UK.

Another LinkedIn profile of a JSi director is in similar terms:

JSi is a commercial vehicle that provides access to the knowledge, skills and intellectual property of the Ministry of Justice in England and Wales so that we can scope and develop solutions for governments and CJ agencies across the world.

Using the success achieved in modernising the Justice system in the UK we have successfully developed and delivered programmes in the Middle East; North Africa and Caribbean. Using staff and other resources from the UK MoJ and National Offender Management Service and our partners our offer is broad and tailored to our customers and partners and can span the following:

- Consultancy based advice and review of current prison or probation services;

- Reduce reoffending programme design including payment by results; Social Impact Bonds; offender learning and employment;

- Benchmarking to ensure that costs of prison and community sentence services are understood and providing value for money;

- Staff learning and development in prison and probation services;

- Prison and police cell design and estates management systems;

- Procurement systems and support to ensure the right services are contracted and that they are effectively managed;

- IT based offender risk assessment and case management to Governments and Justice providers outside the UK

- Intervention programmes to adjust the behaviour of offenders.

 

 

________________________________________________

If there is any further information available, please post it below. Please do not name any civil servants.

The Ministry of Justice is telling people with learning difficulties that they are guilty unless they can prove themselves innocent

31st January 2015

Easy Reads are a good thing.  Done properly, they can explain difficult concepts and complex processes to people who happen to have learning difficulties.

But given this target audience, it is all the more important that Easy Reads are accurate as well as accessible.

The UK Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has just published an Easy Read for defendants in criminal trials at the Crown Court.

In this Easy Read, the MoJ tells defendants that they have to prove they are innocent.  This is a reversal of the actual burden of proof – it is, of course, for the prosecution to prove to the court a defendant is guilty.

What makes this particularly worrying is that it is in an official document – supposed to be authoritative and reliable – aimed at people with learning difficulties facing trials for serious crimes (the Crown Court is for serious crimes and its trials are with juries, the magistrates’ courts do not have juries and are for less serious crimes).

If a defendant pleads guilty or is found guilty at the Crown Court, the usual sentence is imprisonment.

What has probably happened is that the copywriter had no legal qualifications or experience, and the Easy Read was then published without anyone with legal qualifications or experience at the MoJ bothering to check that the Easy Read was accurate – that is, before publishing it for people with learning difficulties to rely on when they are accused of serious crimes.

The MoJ is not in a good state internally; but telling people with learning difficulties that they are guilty if accused of serious crimes unless they can prove they are innocent is surely a low-point.

 

UPDATE

A MoJ spokesperson said this afternoon:

“Easy read guides are an important way of providing information to people in simple and straightforward language. It is crucial to ensure these documents are precise and as helpful as possible.
 
“We are reviewing this guide and will remove it from our website while this process takes place.”
 

I was also told in response to my specific questions:

Q: Why has the MoJ not withdrawn this document?

A: The document will come down from the website today so we can review it.

 

Q: Who at the MoJ approved this Easy Read for publication?  and Why was this not properly checked by anyone before publication?

A: As part of the review we will look at how and why it was published.

 

[1st February 2015, the above is covered by the Observer.]

 

 

Hat-tip to Mukul Chawla QC for spotting this.

 

 

The Ministry of Justice and the Saudis: ten more unanswered questions

27th January 2015

At 10:46 this morning I emailed the following questions to the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) press office for answers by 17:00 (for a follow-up piece to this detailed post on the serious conflict of interest created by the proposed MoJ commercial deal with the Saudi state):

1. Who is the Saudi representative at the [global law] summit? [MoJ had confirmed there was one.]
 
2. The Saudi proposal is described [to be] competitive – has it been advertised?  
 
3. Also, re the Saudi proposal, what is the specification the MoJ is bidding against, and what are the bidding criteria?
 
4. How much will the summit cost (a) the MoJ and (b) central government generally?
 
5. How many contracts have so far been entered into by JSi? Or will the Saudi deal be the first?
 
6. On LinkedIn, JSi personnel seem to have been in post since 2012 – how much has the JSi project cost MoJ since 2012?
 
7. There seems to be at least four civil servants working on JSi full time – can this be confirmed?
 
8. If there are no external advisers involved, why did PwC describe JSi on its blog?  And why does the JSi brochure happen to use PwC boilerplate?

 

At 10:54, a senior member of the press office responds helpfully:

Thanks – we’ll get onto these

 

At 11:11, I email further:

Many thanks. I missed out the one below, sorry:

9. What are the titles, sub-titles and the topics covered in the Saudi MoU? (I see no reason why this cannot be disclosed, even if you cannot disclose the document itself.)

 

And at 13:30 I email:

Oh, and this:

 10. What will be the termination provisions in the proposed commercial deal?  In what circumstances will either party be able to terminate the agreement?
 
Sorry, should have asked before.

 

At 16:46 I get this encouraging response from the same senior press officer:

Hi – almost there on these but won’t quite hit 5 – should be with you by half five at latest.

 

But then at 17:55:

Evening

I’m very sorry but I’m afraid the department has no further comment to make on any of the below questions.

 

So was the 16:46 email intended to be false and misleading?  Or, if it was not, what happened between 16:46 and 17:55?

And why does the MoJ not want to provide information in answer to these ten straightforward questions?

A conflict of interest: the Saudi state and the UK’s Ministry of Justice

25th January 2015

The proposed commercial deal between the Saudi Arabian state and the UK’s Ministry of Justice (MoJ) – whereby the Saudis will pay some £5.9 million for MoJ assistance for its punishment system – prompts a number of concerns.

The first concern is in respect of transparency.  The  MoJ is refusing is disclose any detailed information about the commercial proposal.  The MoJ is also refusing to disclose the accompanying Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) which was signed between Saudi Arabia and the MoJ in September last year (and the signing of which was publicised by the UK embassy in the tweet above).

The second concern regards domestic policy.  Is it appropriate, at a time of severe cuts, for the MoJ to divert scarce civil service resources from the English and Welsh offender management system to assist a punishment regime such as that of Saudi Arabia?  And, related to this, can the UK really claim to have any particular expertise in offender management, in view of the regular damning inspection reports?

The third concern is about whether the proposed assistance for the Saudi punishment system will, in fact, improve the inhumane and brutal treatment of prisoners.  For example, as Amnesty International has asked about this proposed assistance, will the MoJ be “going to be challenging and seeking to prevent abuses when it comes across malpractice, and indeed what human rights safeguards and training are going to be built into any programme”?  In other words, what positve difference will the proposed assistance make?

The fourth concern is the simple of one of legitimacy: will the proposed assistance wrongly offer legitimacy – a valuable seal of approval – to the Saudi punishment system?

The fifth concern is perhaps the most serious, from the point of view of the legal system of England and Wales.  Will the proposed commercial deal create either an actual or apparent conflict of interest for the MoJ?

This final concern is not a fanciful point.  In 2006, the Saudi state forced the UK’s serious fraud office to drop an investigation into BAe (for details, including documented evidence, see the 2008 “Corner House” decision of the House of Lords – a case which should be read by anyone interested in the influence the Saudis have over the UK state). There are many examples of those involved with the Saudi state seeking to coerce the legal process in this jurisdiction (see here and here).

As the MoJ is responsible for the integrity of the legal system of England and Wales – and the cabinet minister responsible for the department even has a legal – some would say, constitutional – duty to uphold the rule of law – is it open to the MoJ to enter into a commercial relationship with a foreign state which as Corner House and other examples show has a documented record of seeking to coerce the domestic legal process?

 

However, it is one thing to articulate grounds of concern; it is, of course, another to be satisfied that those grounds have any substance.

So: is this proposed deal a problem?

And what is the available information?

What follows (at length) is what appears to me to be the relevant information about, in order, the MoJ, the National Offender Management Service, “Just Solutions international” (JSi), the MoU, and the proposed commercial deal.  I will then set out the extent to which I think the concerns are made out and why, in particular, a commercial relationship between the MoJ and the Saudi regime would create an unacceptable conflict of interest for the MoJ.

 

The Ministry of Justice

The MoJ is a fairly new UK government department. (A note: although the MoJ has responsibilities across the UK, it is responsible for the legal system of England and Wales, and not for the separate jurisdictions of Scotland and Northern Ireland.)

In essence, the department was formed out of the old Lord Chancellor’s Department (which was responsible for the court system of England and Wales) with additional responsibilities for prisons and probation – the punishment (and rehabilitation) system.  It seemed a Good Thing at the time, and the notion of an integrated court-prison-probation system is one which many would nod-along with.

The cabinet minister for this new larger department ended up with two titles. First, the minister would be a “Secretary of State” – the usual title for a cabinet minister with departmental responsibilities.  And the minister would also hold the ancient title of “Lord Chancellor” – nominally head of the judiciary and historic supervisor of the courts.  The then Prime Minister had intended to abolish the latter title but, being constitutionally illiterate, he had not realised it would not be possible without extensive legislation.

And the two titles pointed to a tension in the department: on one hand, the minister was responsible for a spending department, with all the budget pressures that involved; and, on the other hand, the minister had a special position in respect of the integrity of the legal system.  The Lord Chancellor was there in part to defend the independence of the judiciary, and the post was usually given to a distinguished lawyer-politician at the end of their career.

When the department was created there were fears that the important role of the Lord Chancellor in respect of the rule of law would be diminished; and that is why in the very first provision of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 was set out that the duty of the Lord Chancellor in respect of defending the integrity of the legal system would be unaffected:

1.  The rule of law

This Act does not adversely affect—

(a) the existing constitutional principle of the rule of law, or

(b) the Lord Chancellor’s existing constitutional role in relation to that principle.

This is a carefully worded provision. It does not create some statutory duty for the Lord Chancellor to uphold the rule of law.  It instead recognises a pre-existing duty.

Part of this new Ministry of Justice was re-titled the National Offender Management Service (NOMS).  In its own words:

We are accountable for how prisons are run in England and Wales. Through HM Prison Service we manage public sector prisons in England and Wales.

We also oversee probation delivery in England and Wales through the National Probation Service and community rehabilitation companies.

However, NOMS does not have any separate legal existence apart from the MoJ.  Its designation as an “executive agency” has administrative but not legal meaning. It is part of the MoJ, and its staff are civil servants and its resources are those of the civil service, funded by the taxpayer.

 

Just Solutions international

Just Solutions international (JSi) – complete with a gimmicky lower-case “i” for international – is something very few had heard of until the proposed MoJ deal with the Saudis came to attention.

JSi has its own “.com” website.  It is worth taking time to look around it.  There is even a glossy brochure.

On its “about us” page, you are told:

JSi provides a range of solutions across the Justice system, from policing through courts to prisons and community sentence delivery. A particular focus is on reducing re-offending and recidivism.

JSi has been created as a social enterprise by a team of entrepreneurs within the UK Justice system.

We deliver our services to customers in conjunction with NOMS.

This is at best misleading: JSi is not “in conjunction” with NOMS.  It is part of NOMS.  And its personnel are better described as civil servants within the MoJ than “a team of entrepreneurs within the UK Justice system” (whatever that could mean).

JSi is a label for NOMS, which in turn is a label within MoJ.  As I have already set out at the FT, JSi is not even a trading fund under the relevant legislation, and the MoJ has had to admit to parliament that JSi does not even keep separate profit and loss accounts.

JSi seeks to give the impression with its .com website (instead of the more appropriate .gov.uk sites for central government work) and heady talk of entrepreneurship, being a “trading arm” and representing NOMS “on all commercial issues” that it is something other than just civil servants within the MoJ with no greater legal power to sell civil service assets than any other civil servants.

In essence, an ambitious group of civil servants have given themselves a gimmicky name and set up their own .com website with the intention of selling their department’s assets somehow in “conjunction” with, well, themselves.

There is very little official information about JSi other than on their website.  On 9 October 2013, the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State referred to the group in a speech to the World Probation Congress, where he said:

In response to this interest from around the world, we are setting up Just
Solutions International – a social enterprise – to enable this service to be
delivered in a commercial manner.

It will be able to make available knowledge and expertise relating to
offender management services to organisations in other countries that
work with offenders.

The new body is currently being piloted and we are looking to launch it in
April 2014. Our intention is that Just Solutions will be able to provide you
with access to all the services you will hear about during this conference,
including, to name but a few:
– development and improvement of probation services;
– prison estates, prison design, prison building and procurement;
– cutting-edge electronic monitoring systems; and
– payment-by-results and reducing re-offending mechanisms.

 

This, however, was not the first public mention of JSi.  For some reason, three months before the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State’s announcement of its launch, the commercial opportunities for JSi is discussed on the PricewaterhouseCoopers blog.  Here, we told:

[NOMS] is exploring an option to establish a not-for-profit organisation to market its expertise in Justice internationally. The new operation, Just Solutions International (JSi), will re-invest any surplus into research that supports the work of NOMS.

Because spending cuts have diminished the budget available for this research, JSi is an example not only of government earning income on its IP, but also of it using that income to maintain a high standard of service delivery.

How PricewaterhouseCoopers (complete with gimmicky lower-case “w”) knew so much about JSi three months before the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State’s announcement is anyone’s guess.

Curiously, the glossy JSi brochure also happens to use exactly the same distinctive “legal disclaimer” language as the glossy brochures of PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Is PricewaterhouseCoopers involved with JSi?  I put this to PricewaterhouseCoopers and they refused to comment citing “client confidentiality” (which at least perhaps suggests my request related to a client matter). Why “client confidentiality” would stop PricewaterhouseCoopers commenting now when they were happy to discuss the commercial opportunities on its own blog in 2013 is unknown. I do hope that blogpost was not a breach of client confidentiality and that it was signed-off by the MoJ.

For its part, MoJ denied that there are “currently” any private sector organisations/consultancies involved in the JSi project.

 

Other than the PricewaterhouseCoopers blogpost and Grayling’s announcement (both of 2013) there is then little public trace of JSi before the proposed Saudi deal.  I asked the MoJ what official documents have mentioned JSi before the proposed Saudi deal emerged.  Initially the MoJ refused to answer this question (along with many others).

I was then told JSi is referred to (though not named) in the UKTI Security Exports Strategy of 2014.  And indeed it is: page 25 of the document shows that the UK government intends to tout “offender management services” around the globe as a “security export”.

It is a remarkable read: the selling of offender management and other-prison-related services is set firmly in the context of national security and intelligence.  Selling such services is not thereby a MoJ frolic; it is part of a wider and coordinated government policy.

 

The MoU

On 11 September 2014, the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State signed a MoU with his Saudi counterpart.  A photograph of the signing ceremony is in the tweet at the head of this post.  The tweet was posted by the UK embassy in Saudi Arabia.

The MoU regards judicial co-operation: in other words, how the respective legal systems of the UK (or just of England and Wales) and Saudi Arabia will work together.

In December 2014, in a report to Parliament, the MoJ said:

The Secretary of State visited Riyadh in September 2014 to sign a Memorandum of Understanding on Judicial Cooperation, to build upon the existing bilateral justice relationship, promote UK legal services in Saudi Arabia and raise awareness of the upcoming Global Law Summit. He also met UK lawyers with offices in Riyadh. Discussions were also held on judicial cooperation, King Abdullah’s reform programme, and human rights issues.

I have already noted elsewhere that noted that judicial cooperation between Saudi Arabia and the UK already seemed quite good before the MoU, as the 2013 transfer of Prince Saud bin Abdulaziz bin Nasir Al Saud indicated.

So what does this MoU say?

We don’t know.

One would think that it would be a public document.  It was announced publicly by the UK embassy who even published a photograph of it being signed; and it was reported to Parliament with a description of how it will build on (and so make a difference to) the existing relationship.  And it would, presumably, contain information about how the two legal systems will interact in way different to how they have interacted before, and this could be crucially important to affected individuals and companies.  It is the very sort of document which should be in the public domain.

The MoJ are refusing to publish the MoU.  I asked the MoJ directly for a copy, and the response was:

This is a shared document with the Saudi government so we are not in a position to publish it at present.  

This is a non-sequitur.  Of course it is a “shared” document: it is a memorandum of understanding signed by two parties – it is “shared” is in its very nature.  And the the fact it is a shared document – which will affect third parties with dealings with both legal systems – is why it should be in the public domain.

(I have put in a Freedom of Information request for the MoU.)

Judicial cooperation is something – like improving prisons – which is (usually) a Good Thing and one can nod-along with.  But given the Corner House case and other examples of where the Saudis have sought to exert illegitimate pressure on the UK legal system, the actual terms of any judicial cooperation between the UK and the Saudi state are clearly a matter for public concern.

 

The commercial proposal

In the same report to Parliament as the mention of the MoU is another passage describing the proposed commercial deal.

In a paragraph alongside one  saying how the UK will host a “Global Law Summit, a world-class international event to coincide with the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta” to “showcase the depth and adaptability of the UK legal system and will demonstrate the foundation that our rule of law has created for businesses to flourish” was this information:

Just Solutions international (JSi), is the commercial brand for the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) promoting products and services to international justice markets.

In August 2014, JSi submitted a £5.9m proposal to the Kingdom of Saudi
Arabia, Ministry of Finance to conduct a training needs analysis across all the learning and development programmes within the Saudi Arabian Prison Service.

(This passage was first reported by David Hencke.  There is also mention of a proposed bid to another illiberal regime, Oman.)

There are a few things to note about the described proposal.

First, look at the dates: the commercial bid was made in August 2014, two months before the MoU was signed.  This means that the MoJ was simultaneously bidding for commercial work with the Saudi regime at the time it was finalising and entering into the MoU on judicial cooperation. (And remember neither NOMS nor JSi has any legal existence distinct from the MoJ –  they are simply labels.)

Second, the flow of cash will be from Saudi Arabia to the MoJ.  Most UK government contracts, of course, work the other way round – the government (though a complex legal process called “public procurement” usually buys in goods and services, rather than selling them to others.

Third, the amount of cash is £5.9 million.  This is nothing, of course, to the Saudis; but it is a significant amount to a department like the MoJ in a period of substantial cuts and strain on the legal aid system.  The money will be paid directly to MoJ and will not be accounted for separately.  In other words: things will depend on this much-needed money being paid. As the MoJ explained to me:

Any commercial work undertaken by NOMS falls within the overall NOMS budget. The aim is that it covers the costs of NOMS commercial and other international work and generates a surplus to invest in our own services.

If approved the bid will be fully funded by the client [ie, Saudi Arabia] Government, will not cost the British tax payer a single penny and will generate a surplus to be used to support our own services.

But fourth, the proposal is for “ a training needs analysis across all the learning and development programmes within the Saudi Arabian Prison Service” which is surely a Good Thing, which we can all nod-along with.  Why such an anaysis is worth £5.9 million, and why the civil servants diverted from their work in UK will be in any good position to conduct such an analysis of what is a significantly different punishment system, are questions which are not answered.

 

But there other concerns, raised by Amnesty International (quoted here):

Given the prevalence of torture in detention, given that prisoners may – like Raif Badawi – face a flogging, and given that dozens of prisoners each year are taken out of their cells and publicly beheaded, we need to know how this scheme is going to help improve the situation?

Beyond the usual aspirational language, can Chris Grayling demonstrate that Just Solutions international will actually be able to concretely improve detention practices in Saudi Arabia without becoming complicit in abuse?

For example, is JSi going to be challenging and seeking to prevent abuses when it comes across malpractice, and indeed what human rights safeguards and training are going to be built into any programme?

These are serious points.

After David Hencke’s report and my initial FT piece, the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State was asked about the proposed deal on television and he said he was looking at the deal “carefully”.  This, of course, a deal which he put before Parliament in his department’s report in December 2014.

I posed thirteen questions for information and documents, all of which were refused with a blanket statement.  I was even told dismissively that the MoJ would “not provide a running commentary” – even though the requests for precise information and documents and not for “commentary” at all.

However, tenacity and escalation sometimes pays off, and late on Friday I was provided with further information.

Question: When is the proposal expected to be signed?

Our bid is under consideration and may not be successful. We do not know the timing of bid evaluation and decision making – this depends on the pace of the Saudi Procurement process.

Question: What was the answer to Amnesty’s questions? (Quoted above.)

We believe that by bringing our standards on issues such as human rights into international delivery we will improve detention practices.

We should recognise that our correctional services are well viewed by other Governments who also understand our approach to human rights.

When other countries approach us for assistance therefore they do so in full knowledge that we will only offer advice and support that complies with our own human rights standards.

We have already seen and challenged practice in other countries and have been instrumental in the change of practice in other countries.

Question: Why has the Secretary of State now said he is looking at the Saudi proposal carefully? What does this mean in practice?

All international activity considered by NOMS is subject to a careful assessment process and sign off by MoJ; FCO and our local Embassies.

This includes an assessment about whether our possible activity would improve human rights outcomes.

This process was completed prior to our bid to Saudi.

And interestingly, the MoJ added:

We would expect to repeat this process if the Saudi Government decided to offer NOMS the contract. In that case the Secretary of State would have the opportunity to review the earlier decision in the light of current issues and considerations.

The final decision may be to continue to contract (should it be offered) or to withdraw from the process.

So it is not a done deal; and the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State will consider “human rights outcomes” before signing any contract.

There was, of course, no good reason why any of this information could not have been provided to begin with.

I also asked the MoJ about the conflict of interest – the “Corner House” question. Was it open to the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State to enter into a commercial relationship with a Saudi state which uses threats and coercion to disrupt and corrupt the domestic legal system?  How could the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State be able to stand up to its new “client” if the Saudi state again issues threats which would affect the rule of law?

The response on that point:

A MoJ spokesperson said:
“The British Government’s position on human rights is a matter of public record and we regularly raise our human rights concerns with the Saudi Arabian authorities at the highest level.

“No aspect of our commercial relationships prevents us from speaking frankly and openly to them about these or other issues.”

So that’s alright then: a high-value commercial deal by which the MoJ will receive £5.9 million which will be used to fund other services, contained in a commercial proposal which it will not disclose but was made at the same time as the MoJ negotiated a MoU on judicial cooperation will not have any impact at all on the MoJ “speaking frankly and openly” to its “client”.

 

Conclusion: a conflict of interest

So, are any of the concerns articulated at the head of the post made out?

In respect of transparency, the simultaneous MoU and commercial bid are not in the public domain, and both of them should be, even if there was no question of a connection between the two.  Both are documents which, on their own terms, should be published in the public interest.

In respect of domestic policy, your view on whether this is a a good way of scarce MoJ resources to be used – especially in a period of substantial cuts – will ultimately be a value judgment.  And most people who follow the operation of the prison and probation services will legitimately wonder if the UK is in any position to market expertise abroad.

In respect of whether the proposal will improve the lot of those in the Saudi punishment system, your view will partly depend on whether you are satisfied by the the MoJ’s (eventual) responses to the questions posed by Amnesty International. And even if the assistance is a Good Thing, there is no reason why it should be offered by the UK on a “commercial” basis.

In respect of whether the proposal will give wrongful legitimacy to the barbaric Saudi punishment system will also ultimately be a value judgment.

However, in respect of the the concern as to whether the proposal creates a conflict of interest, the position is clear.

The MoJ, responsible for the legal system of England and Wales, is seeking a commercial relationship, by which it intends to make a surplus to be used for other services, with a foreign state which as the Corner House case alone documents coerces the legal system of England and Wales by illegitimate means at its disposal.

In these circumstances, it cannot be open to the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State to enter into a commercial arrangement with the Saudi state.

Even if there was transparency, and even if this was (somehow) a good use of civil service resources which would benefit the lot of those in the Saudi punishment system, and even if there could be no doubt that MoJ will stand up to the Saudis when abuses occur – in other words, even if there was nothing else concerning about this proposed deal at all, it still should not go ahead because of the conflict of interest the deal will create.

The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice cannot combine the duty to uphold the rule of law and protect the integrity of the domestic legal system at the same time as entering into a commercial deal with the Saudi state described in the Corner House case (and other cases).

 

In summary: whatever else is wrong about this deal, the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice should not enter into a high-value and beneficial commercial relationship with a Saudi state which is well documented as using illegitimate force to disrupt the legal system of the UK.

The Ministry of Justice and the Saudis: the unanswered questions

22nd January 2015

[Note added 27th January 2015, I eventually got answers, see this detailed post.]

 

So yesterday I asked the press office of the Ministry of Justice questions about its £5.9 million “commercial” proposal to the punishment system Saudi Arabia (see here and here):

1. Can I please have a copy of the MoU signed between the Secretary of State and Saudi

2. Can I please have a copy of the commercial proposal put to the Saudis

3. Can you provide full details to what is to be offered to the Saudis under the commercial proposal

4. Can you provide set out the extent of the civil service resources which are to be used in the proposal

5. When is the proposal expected to be signed?

6. What are the answers to Amnesty’s questions as follows:

Beyond the usual aspirational language, can Chris Grayling demonstrate that Just Solutions international will actually be able to concretely improve detention practices in Saudi Arabia without becoming complicit in abuse?
For example, is JSi going to be challenging and seeking to prevent abuses when it comes across malpractice, and indeed what human rights safeguards and training are going to be built into any programme?

7. What is the current budget for JSi [Just Solutions international, the (supposed) commercial vehicle being used by MoJ]?

8. Other than the mid-term report, what mention has there been of JSi in any official publications?

9. What is the headcount for JSi?

10. Who paid for the “.com” website for JSi and why is it not a “.gov.uk” website?

11. Why has the Secretary of State now said he is looking at the Saudi proposal carefully? What does this mean in practice?

12. Please set out the commercial experience/expertise of those engaged in the JSi project? A quick look at open-source sources reveals little or no commercial experience/expertise at all.

13. Please identify all private sector organisations/consultancies involved in the JSi project.

None of these questions would seem difficult to answer, and they should not be controversial.

Today I had the response:

“At this point in time we have no further comment to add from what we said at the weekend on this issue:

“A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said:

“Just Solutions international provides knowledge and expertise of prison and offender management services to international organisations and governments who work with offenders.

“It has been government policy for many years to work with overseas governments and help them develop their criminal justice systems, utilising that knowledge to bring funds to the public purse.

“JSi does not work with countries unless it is completely safe to do so and details of any contracts will be made public when agreed.”

This seemed odd, so I followed up asking why the MoJ was refusing to answer each of the individual questions I posed and, in particular, what was the reason why MoJ are not disclosing the MoU referred to here.

The response:

“Sorry, we’re not going to give a running commentary on this.”

I had not asked for a running commentary, or for any “commentary” at all, just for the information referred to in my questions on a matter of public interest.

The MoJ and the Saudis

20th January 2015

Over at the Financial Times website I have a post on the Ministry of Justice’s proposed deal with the punishment system in Saudi Arabia.  Please go and read it – access is free (for a number of pieces a month) though registration is required.

Continue reading The MoJ and the Saudis

Je suis Charlie: Orwell on the fear that extremists have of being laughed at

George Orwell in The Lion and the Unicorn:

“One rapid but fairly sure guide to the social atmosphere of a country is the parade-step of its army.

“A military parade is really a kind of ritual dance, something like a ballet, expressing a certain philosophy of life.

“The goose-step, for instance, is one of the most horrible sights in the world, far more terrifying than a dive-bomber.

“It is simply an affirmation of naked power; contained in it, quite consciously and intentionally, is the vision of a boot crashing down on a face.

“Its ugliness is part of its essence, for what it is saying is ‘Yes, I am ugly, and you daren’t laugh at me’, like the bully who makes faces at his victim.

“Why is the goose-step not used in England?

“There are, heaven knows, plenty of army officers who would be only too glad to introduce some such thing.

“It is not used because the people in the street would laugh.

“Beyond a certain point, military display is only possible in countries where the common people dare not laugh at the army.”

So: to adapt Orwell: extremism is only possible in countries where the people dare not laugh at extremism.

.

(From a post originally posted here.)