Government set to endure BAE judicial review

A judicial review of the Government’s decision to abandon a corruption investigation into BAE Systems could be launched, with full grounds to do so lodged yesterday.

The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) and social justice movement The Corner House are seeking the review after the Government terminated the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) investigation in December 2006.

The two groups contend that ceasing the investigation into BAE’s Al Yamamah arms contract with Saudi Arabia was unlawful in that it breached the UK’s undertaking under the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) Anti-Bribery Convention, as first reported on www.thelawyer.com (18 December 2006). This is because the convention bars signatories from stopping bribery investigations on economic grounds or on grounds of damage to international relations.

Corner House spokesperson Nicholas Hildyard said: “The Government contended that continuing the investigation would damage national security because it would result in a deterioration in relations with Saudi Arabia. However, the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention expressly forbids consideration of the impact of corruption probes on relations with a foreign state.”

The groups also point out that Saudi Arabia is legally bound by UN resolutions to supply intelligence relating to terrorism.

CAAT spokesperson Symon Hill said: “The security arguments don’t fly. This is a simple case of Britain breaking the OECD convention. Otherwise any country could blackmail the UK into abandoning an uncomfortable bribery probe.”

As first reported by The Lawyer (18 December 2006), the two groups have instructed a heavyweight team on the action, which includes Dinah Rose QC and top judicial review silk David Pannick QC, both of Blackstone Chambers. They had delayed lodging their full case for judicial review pending the outcome of parallel proceedings arising from the discovery that BAE had obtained an email containing the groups’ privileged legal advice.

As reported on www.thelawyer.com (19 April), Paul Mercer, an agent at private investigation agency LigneDeux Associates, which was hired by BAE to monitor activist groups, was named this week as the person who supplied BAE with the email. Mercer has since given binding lifelong undertakings to the court promising not to misuse confidential information belonging to the CAAT again.