High Court: Serious Fraud Office acted unlawfully

The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) acted unlawfully when it dropped its corruption investigation of BAE Systems’ arms deals with Saudi Arabia, the High Court ruled today.

Lord Justice Moses and Mr Justice Sullivan handed down a damning verdict on the actions of the government and the SFO, saying: “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 to bear that essential principle in mind that justifies the intervention of this court.”

The decision was a response to a judicial review brought by Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) and anti-bribery pressure group The Corner House, as first reported by The Lawyer (20 April 2007.)

The review followed the December 2006 decision by the then-Attorney General Lord Goldsmith to drop the investigation into allegations of corruption around BAE’s £43bn Al Yamamah arms contract with Saudi Arabia due to national security concerns.

Corner House spokeswoman Susan Hawley said: “This is a great day for British justice. The judges have stood up for the right of independent prosecutors not to be subjected to political pressure.

“And they have made sure that the Government cannot use national security arguments just because a prosecution is not in their interests.”

As first reported by The Lawyer (19 December 2006) Leigh Day & Co advised Corner House and CAAT, instructing Blackstone Chambers Dinah Rose QC and Matrix Chambers’ Philippe Sands QC.

Allen & Overy advised BAE Systems, instructing Matrix Chambers’ Clare Montgomery QC.

11KBW’s Philip Sales QC and Treasury solicitors acted for the director of the SFO, Robert Wardle.