Five questions for the MoJ about the continuing bid to provide services to the Saudis.

The Ministry of Justice has announced that it is continuing with its bid to provide services on a commercial basis to the (barbaric) Saudi prisons system.  It appears that it has to continue with the bid because it will incur liability for “financial penalties” if the bid is now withdrawn.

The ministerial statement is here – and should be read carefully in full.

For background, my FT post on this commercial proposal is here and my timeline of the shadowy “Just Solutions International” is here.

Michael Gove is to be commended for closing down “Just Solutions International” – another reversal of the dire Grayling legacy.

But there are serious questions to be asked about this continuing Saudi bid:

1.  On what legal basis is the MoJ liable for “financial penalties”?

[For as there is no contract in place yet – and so no offer-and-acceptance – then the liability must be on some other basis.  How has the MoJ ended up with legal liability before a contract has even been signed?]

2.  Who at the MoJ agreed to this liability at bid stage?

3.  What is the amount of the “financial penalties”?

4. Was legal advice taken by the MoJ before entering in to this liability?

5.  One suspects MoJ had entered into a costs guarantee (and not a “financial penalty” in the strict legal sense).  Can the MoJ confirm whether entering into this guarantee was agreed by the then Secretary of State and/or MoJ’s Accounting Officer (ie, the MoJ permanent secretary)?  As a contingent liability, it should have been.

I have sent these questions to the MoJ press office.  I suspect they will just refer me to the ministerial statement.  But we will see.


ADD – after seven hours, the MoJ refused to answer: “We don’t not [SIC] have anything further to add to the Parliamentary Question answer.”



Post script: this July article in IBT is very interesting on the proposed deal.


(By way of disclosure, I was a central government procurement lawyer, 2005-7.)


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5 thoughts on “Five questions for the MoJ about the continuing bid to provide services to the Saudis.”

  1. Maybe it is just me, but I have noticed for a while now that public service contracts seem to be drawn up in a way that is unilaterally beneficial to the private contractor, while detrimental to the state, in terms of money and services.

    Look at how expensive welfare to work schemes fail to get people into work, or how prison services are provided or how disabled people are assessed as ‘fit for work.’ What about the 2012 Olympics security contract?

    Why are government contract terms so often in favour of the private company? Why do government lawyers not act on behalf of the state for the public interest?

    1. This. So much of this.

      Government contracts are lucrative. So I’d have thought they shoud be able to set some fairly stiff terms (service level agreements, failure penalties, etc) without discouraging tenders or falling foul of Unfair Terms legislation (although David may be able to correct me on this point).

      I know a LOT of people whose lives would be vastly improved if AToS could deliver their agreed service level of IT provision.

  2. Mixture of cockup and conspiracy, I suspect. Ministers not trusting civil servants, instead using shiny-faced business studies graduates to negotiate with experienced lawyers and business people.

    I look forward to a timely response to the author’s questions. Ho ho.

  3. No-one with any experience of international contracts would touch a project involving the Kingdom if they valued their reputation for probity.

    Saudi Arabia is structurally and irremediably corrupt, and all dealings with them are implicitly and explicitly corrupting: and how could any deal with their abhorrent Ministry of Justice be anything else?

    I take a charitable view that no minister or civil servant has accepted bribes in this instance; but this is Saudi Arabia and they will have been offered them repeatedly, and quite skilfully.

    No reputation survives that.

    Worse, the entire endeavour is corrupt – implicitly, for who with any shred of decency would deal with the Saudi justice system in pursuit of profit? – And explicitly, for the Saudis seek to purchase a veneer of respectability; and, in all probability, the senior Civil Servants and their seconded advisers from the private sector seek to sell the Saudis the dismal services of Britain’s vampiric management consultancies and ‘service providers’.

    So who would be left to work on this relationship when no-one with a shree of integrity or expertise would touch it with a bargepole?

    A hint: at best, they will be merely useless.

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