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.

The piece was prompted by the revelation of the deal by David Hencke late last week.  The government report which mentions the deal is here and it is described on page 6 as:

“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.”

As I set out in the FT post, there is a lot worrying about this deal.

The “JSi” does not exist separately to the MoJ: it is just a gimmicky label some civil servants have given themselves whilst they affect to be international service providers.  It is, in reality, the MoJ providing the service on “commercial” terms, diverting scarce UK civil service resources to Saudi Arabia.

But even more problematic is the secrecy: the details of the proposed deal will not be provided until after the deal has been signed, and so we have no idea how robust JSi can be in challenging any abuses which it encounters.

In essence it smacks of a bright idea to raise cash without thinking through whether such an engagement is a helpful thing for a hard-pressed MoJ, or whether it will do any good to one of the most brutal punishment systems in the world.

At worst, it provides a veneer of legitimacy to a dreadful regime whilst showing the UK government’s priority is to simply make money out of the punishment system of Saudi Arabia.

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6 thoughts on “The MoJ and the Saudis”

  1. the thing to understand is that Grayling just isn’t very bright. He likes to think he is but, characteristically, he only gets to the starting point with any given problem, as in : “So this isn’t working well, why don’t we replace it with [something that worked decades ago but died from under-funding] and… then outsource it to people who know how to do it!” He then assigns it even less money, hands it to the usual (hard lobbying) suspects and is genuinely amazed that an under-funded, under-specified, un-tested half idea falls flat on its face. I refer you to myriad quotes from down the years in his various ministerial catastrophes. It reminds me of a what a Romanian historian once wrote about Ceauceascu (I paraphrase) : communism didn’t have to turn out such a bad totalitarian ideology, it’s just that people like Ceauceascu took it seriously. On reflection, it’s a shame that Grayling knows not how to take justice seriously, nor even understand it.

  2. I can see no way this even makes sense. There is no rule of law in Saudi Arabia, so what use civil servants?
    Or is it a trial & work experience for after Grayling has scrapped judicial review and he starts ruling by decree?

  3. An cynic might ask if the Kingdom had come forward with the request for assistance from this hitherto-unknown commercial consultancy arm of Her Majesty’s Government.

    I will leave you all to speculate as to how that approach might have played out, and what a leisurely negotiation between Saudi princes and officials from a foreign government actually *looks* like. Sometimes you find yourself wondering what the interests and incentives were, and what might really have been weighed or weighted in those decisions.

    This is, of course, baseless speculation. I would advise you not to make the leap from ‘baseless’ to ‘base motives’ – I have every confidence that the Ministry will reassure us that the very highest standards of integrity were upheld.

    That being said, here’s a point that the cynic (and Heaven forbid that *I* should ever be called that) might put forward: it’s all probably honest in its visible intent of sticking a veneer of British respectability to the Saudi justicial system, because six million is far, far short of what would be required to make the MoJ desist from an investigation into (say)
    disreputable acts by some or other member of a Royal House in some or other kingdom, emirate, or ally of convenience.

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