High Court considers that legal challenge to MoJ Saudi prison bid raises significant issue of public interest; Government facing mounting criticism over bid

A High Court Judge has ruled that the Gulf Center for Human Rights’ legal challenge to the Ministry of Justice’s controversial bid to sell prison services to the Saudi state raises “a significant issue which the public interest requires should be resolved”.

On this basis the Court has granted GCHR – a small charity with limited resources – a cap on the amount of the Government’s legal costs it would have to pay if it lost the case, to allow the case to continue and the legality of JSi to be decided. Without a cap, GCHR would have to withdraw because the Government lawyers’ fees it may have to pay if it lost the case would be crippling, and the legality of the Saudi bid would go unchallenged. However, the cost cap is set at £10,000, well over double the limit which GCHR had sought, and significantly more than it would it be able to pay. The charity is crowdfunding the case, and now desperately needs more donations to keep the case going. The crowdfunding page is here.

Meanwhile, the MoJ faces growing criticism of its decision to keep the Saudi bid on the table, following news of the horrific death sentence – crucifixion – meted out by the Saudi authorities to Ali Al Nimr, a young Saudi activist, for crimes alleged to have been committed when he was still a minor, and despite reports that his confession was extracted through the use of torture.

The MoJ has struggled to explain exactly why the Saudi bid should continue when JSi, the programme through which it was launched, has recently been closed down. The MoJ initially referred to “financial penalties” that would be incurred if the bid were withdrawn, only to correct itself last week, when it became apparent that these penalties would not apply. The government now states that its “wider interests” require the Saudi bid to continue.

Melanie Gingell, GCHR advisory board member, stated:

“The government has cited its wider interests but failed to explain what those interests are. Whether they relate to the Saudi government’s questionable role in ensuring regional security in the Middle East, or to the perpetuation of a lucrative arms trade which has seen Saudi representatives welcomed with open arms at  last week’s DSEI arms fair in London, for too long it has soft-pedalled on the Saudi state’s atrocious human rights record.

Doing business with the Saudi prison service, the arm of that regime responsible for so many of its most terrible abuses, will serve only to legitimise those abuses, and  puts the lie to the UK’s stated commitment to human rights, at home and abroad.

In our legal challenge we are arguing that the UK government has no power to offer up public services for sale to repressive regimes like Saudi Arabia without first seeking the UK parliament’s permission – and being subjected to its scrutiny. The UK government failed to do that, and instead we are having to turn to the courts to hold the government to account. Please help us: donate to the case, and spread the word – #stopfloggingjustice.”

GCHR are represented by Adam Hundt, Daniel Carey and William Russell of our Bristol office, and Dan Squires, of Matrix Chambers.