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that it has to continue with the bid because it will incur liability for “financial penalties” if the bid is now withdrawn.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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