For the record

This site was set up to detail the judicial review of the decision to end the SFO investigation into BAE-Saudi arms deals.

Now the judicial review has finished, the site will be left online for the record. It is frozen as of February 2009.

For further information about corruption, visit The Corner House, or about BAE and the UK Government's arms dealing, visit CAAT.

Timeline of the legal challenge

4. High Court ruling: SFO acted unlawfully


10 April 2008:
Termination of investigation ruled unlawful

The High Court decided in favour of The Corner House and CAAT, ruling that the Director of the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) did act unlawfully when he stopped the corruption investigation into BAE Systems' arms deals with Saudi Arabia (see full judgment).

The judges described the SFO Director's termination of the investigation following threats from Saudi Arabia as a "successful attempt by a foreign government to pervert the course of justice in the United Kingdom". They stated that:

"No-one, whether within this country or outside, is entitled to interfere with the course of our justice. It is the failure of Government and the defendant [the Director of the Serious Fraud Office] to bear that essential principle in mind that justifies the intervention of this court."

In legal terms, they found that:
i) The Director of the Serious Fraud Office had failed to exercise his independent judgment in halting the investigation.
ii) The Director had failed to convince the court that he had done all in his power to resist the threat in order to uphold the rule of law.

They stated:

"The Director failed to appreciate that protection of the rule of law demanded that he should not yield to the threat . . . We are driven to the conclusion that the Director's submission to the threat was unlawful."

The judges were scathing about the SFO's arguments for ending the investigation

"It is obvious . . . that the decision to halt the investigation suited the objectives of the executive. Stopping the investigation avoided uncomfortable consequences, both commercial and diplomatic."

As to whether the SFO Director's action had broken the OECD's Anti-bribery Convention, the judges concluded that the SFO Director should answer to the OECD's Working Group on Bribery. (See our summary and analysis of the judgment for more details.)

CAAT and The Corner House held a press conference, broadcast live on Sky News at which we read out a
joint statement stressing that the judicial review wasn't just 'our' case:

"It belongs to everyone who is concerned to maintain the integrity of the British justice system and the independence of its law enforcement authorities. It belongs to everyone who is troubled by corruption, by the arms trade and by the misuse of national security arguments by the executive. "

Some of the press reports over the following days neatly summed up the 16-month journey from December 2006, when the investigation was terminated, to April 2008, when the decision to terminate was ruled unlawful.

"What started as a David versus Goliath challenge, brought by a group of activists dismissed as 'treehuggers' . . . culminated in a damning condemnation of the [UK] government that is likely to reverberate for years to come" wrote the Financial Times as part of its extensive front page and full inside page coverage of the ruling. It also said:

"Even the most optimistic of campaigners from Corner House Research and the Campaign Against Arms Trade could not have expected to hear one of Britain’s most senior judges castigate officials – including a former prime minister – for placing the entire criminal justice system under threat."

In a leader article, The Times wrote as follows:

"There are moments when a statement of the obvious cuts through the fog of self-interest and evasion that clings to much of politics, and clears the way for a genuine fresh start. The High Court's stunning condemnation of the decision to abandon an investigation into alleged bribery by BAE Systems is such a moment. 'No one,' Lord Justice Moses and Mr Justice Sullivan declared, 'whether in this country or outside, is entitled to interfere with the course of our justice.' It should never have fallen to their lordships to point this out."

The Financial Times noted that:

"The near-silence of BAE . . . and the other main parties was a sign of how much they all had to think about on a day when Lord Justice Moses’s voice rang out uncomfortably loud and clear."

Many of the press reports noted the contradictions between the judicial review ruling and the draft Constitutional Renewal Bill (see Changing the law), the new legislation the Government is trying to push through to prevent such judicial reviews in future.

The Financial Times again:

"The BAE court ruling has brought to the boil a simmering controversy over the government’s attempts to give itself a wide-ranging power to stop investigations and prosecutions on national security grounds.

"Baroness Scotland, the attorney-general, now has the tricky task of defending her efforts to push through the reforms [draft Constitutional Renewal Bill] in the wake of a judgment that condemned the government for using national security exemptions too loosely.

"Lawyers said the national security argument was the most striking part of a judgment whose attack on the government’s legal failings read more like a US Supreme Court attack on an overweening president."