Exclusive: Michael Gove faces High Court action over selling legal services to aid Saudi beheaders and torturers

Michael Gove: Facing a High Court challenge over selling services to the Saudis

Michael Gove: Facing a High Court challenge over selling services to the Saudis

Tomorrow the High Court will receive an application from  the Gulf Centre  for Human Rights to bring a judicial review over the Justice Secretary’s decision to bid for commercial work from the Saudi Arabian government because of the regime’s appalling record of public beheadings, torturing dissidents and flogging bloggers like Raif Badawi.

The case against Michael Gove is a legacy from his predecessor Chris Grayling but is linked to an appalling case of torture against a Saudi Arabian -simply known for his own protection as AB.

The Gulf Center, a non governmental organisation based in Beirut and Copenhagen, defends independent journalists, lawyers and bloggers in the Middle East, is applying to take over the case  started by AB after it appears the Ministry of Justice retrospectively removed legal aid from him.

Central to the case is the shadowy and secretive (we know this as it vigorously finds any way not to release information) Just Solutions International, a commercial arm of the Ministry of Justice set up by Chris Grayling.As readers of this blog and those who follow the excellent  Jack of Kent aka lawyer David Allen Green will know – Just Solutions has an unenviable reputation of providing services to dodgy regimes and has a £5.9m bid for Saudi work at the moment.

The centre’s lawyers  want leave from the court to challenge whether the organisation has complied with official Whitehall guidelines before bidding for the contract and also whether Michael Gove or his predecessors  has acted illegally by creating this commercial organisation without any Parliamentary approval.

Their case cites information from  government documents on this blog and Jack of Kent’s blog. We have been separately pursuing the ministry over related issues.What they have found out is that there are no public documents saying that it followed the coalition’s  Overseas Judicial and Security Assistance guidelines.

These restrict all government departments from bidding for work from regimes which breach human rights if the Government’s reputation is damaged or is a serious risk to aiding or significantly increasing human rights abuses.These are spelled out as regimes that unlawfully detain people, have the death penalty, torture people and limit freedom of expression. Saudi Arabia ticks nearly very warning box.

Baroness Anelay: Saudi people want floggings

Baroness Anelay: Saudi people want floggings

Until now the standard response has been that this help is meant to help improve standards. that is until a comment from  foreign office minister Baroness Anelay in reference to the flogging of Raif Badawi in the Lords : ““My Lords, I think we have to recognise that the actions of the Saudi government in these respects have the support of the vast majority of the Saudi population.”

Melanie Gingell, a member of GCHR’s advisory board, said:: “It seems to us that far from improving human rights standards in the detention systems of these  regimes, the UK is more likely to be simply improving the efficiency of the systems within which these notorious abuses are being carried out.  The British public has been horrified by the public beheadings and floggings carried out in Saudi Arabia, and now mirrored by ISIS, and they have a right to know exactly what role the UK government is playing in these systems.”

She added, “We fear that the driving motivation behind these bids is purely commercial, and the veil of secrecy that has been drawn over them simply serves to deepen our concerns that the UK is making money out of the worst aspects of these regimes, that it condemns in public, but is happy to give support to in private.”

Deighton Pierce Glynn Solicitors (DPG) are acting for GCHR.  Adam Hundt, a partner at DPG, stated: “It is surprising that JSi’s activities have taken place shrouded in secrecy, and without parliamentary debate or approval.  If the UK is to sell its public services to regimes that behead people for sorcery, stone women to death and flog people for expressing pro-democracy views, then one would expect our Parliament to be consulted and given the opportunity to impose appropriate parameters on such activities.”

A campaign to crowd fund this action has also been launched by the Gulf Centre for Human Rights. The link is http://www.gofundme.com/saudiprisons 

Revealed: How The Metropolitan Police Covered-Up For Rupert Murdoch’s News International – Joe Public


This is an extremely important revelation by Bellingcat and Byline given that the Met Police have had at last to hand over huge numbers of documents to the Daniel Morgan Independent Panel which is investigating his death. It suggests a wider conspiracy by the Met Police involving more people.
It is also good news that this is one of the first projects that has been ” crowd funded” by Byline showing the need for journalists to be given time and resources to investigate very serious scandals that are in the public interest.

Originally posted on Inforrm's Blog:

Mazher-Mahmood-010A Bellingcat and Byline investigation can for the first time reveal Scotland Yard had intelligence Mazher Mahmood was corrupting police officers as far back as the summer of 2000.

View original 5,428 more words

Pathetic: The Child Sex Abuse Inquiry’s slow response to stopping vital documents being destroyed

New Zealand dame Justice Lowell Goddard : tardy action over documents pic credit: http://www.teara.govt.nz/

New Zealand dame Justice Lowell Goddard : tardy action over documents pic credit: http://www.teara.govt.nz/

It was revealed yesterday by the Goddard Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse that it has only just got round to writing letters to the Cabinet Secretary, police, NHS, religious leaders and local government asking them not to destroy documents which could hinder their investigations.

The fine words from Lowell Goddard  requesting this and lists of categories  which must not be destroyed can be seen here. No one can complain about the scope of the letters. It is just that they should have been written months ago.

The home secretary,Theresa May made it clear months ago when questioned by MPs that she expected this to be done. But obviously those in charge preferred to take a more leisurely approach and spent the time trying to recruit at least 20 more lawyers instead.

Any sensible person  would have made sure that the letters went out immediately the first panel was set up. It should have been the first act of the secretariat to safeguard documents to prevent them going into shredders to save Whitehall and town hall storage costs. And I am told that at least two members of the old panel requested this be done at early meetings.

In this inquiry this is particularly important. Investigations by Exaro have already discovered that vital documents in inquiries go missing. And the inquiry by Peter Wanless  and Richard Whittam failed to discover key documents including the dossier sent by the late Geoffrey Dickens MP on paedophiles to the late  Leon Brittan, the home secretary. And that raised questions about the retention of documents as long ago as November last year.

So it is particularly galling to see how long it has taken the inquiry to act. There is a lot of stake here – VIP paedophiles will be desperate not to be found out and want to cover their tracks. By taking such a long time in such a high profile inquiry they have been given every opportunity to do that by this delay.

The European Court of Human Rights: A judgement that wrecks free speech

The European Court of Human Rights has done itself no favours with bloggers by upholding an absurd  and  outrageous judgement making websites liable for any comment published on their sites.

As  I reported over a year ago the court had already ruled  that judges have made the extraordinary decision to hold news sites and blogs legally responsible for all the comments put up on their site even if they take them down after a complaint.
Effectively it meant that any offended party can pursue a news organisation or blog for any defamatory comment made about them EVEN after it has been removed from the website.
The ruling follows a dispute after a said to be respected Estonian news organisation,Delfi,ran a piece about a ferry company making controversial changes to its routes. The changes to remote Estonian islands attracted widespread criticism including an attack on their owners from anonymous bloggers who put comments on the site. A major shareholder in the company took offence at the comments and decided to sue. The website took them down but the owner decided to pursue the site – not the commentators – saying it should be legally responsible for checking every single comment before it is published..

Now the grand chamber of the court has upheld this absurd decision – saying that it is up to professional bloggers to legally check any comment before it is public – effectively saying they should act like Mystic Meg in predicting whether any comment is offensive. Not surprisingly this has attracted a vehement response in the United States and Europe who see the ruling as dangerous and damaging to free speech. Both the respected Inforrm blog and a US website Techdirt have issued particularly harsh criticism.

Techdirt describes the decision as a disaster for free speech and the decision as ” absolutely crazy”.

The only exceptions to this ruling appear to  be internet forums and people who run their websites as non commercial ventures or as the judgement says ” as a hobby”. The only reason for this is evidently the judges thought people with hobbies shouldn’t be expected to have to employ lawyers to check their every move. But ” freedom of expression” should not be confined to those who have hobbies.

The main effect according to one of two dissenting judges would amount to :” an invitation to self-censorship at its worst.”

Luckily the UK has a Defamation Act that does the opposite – putting the onus on the people who post comments not the website and has procedures to sort out a dispute.

But it would only take one wealthy, vindictive person angered by a comment to go to the ECHR citing this judgement. And then we would in for a battle between British law and the European Court ruling.

Frankly if Michael Gove, the justice secretary, got hold of this judgement – he would have a good case to damn the court. And in this case he would be right.

Who Dares Wins:Trident’s greatest enemy Jeremy Corbyn backs Trident’s greatest friend and winner Julian Lewis

 Julian Lewis. MP for New Forest East,   Trident's greatest supporter

Julian Lewis. MP for New Forest East,
Trident’s greatest supporter

Update: Julian Lewis beat off rivals Bob Stewart and Richard Benyon to chair the defence select committee for the next five years. Final vote was  Julian Lewis 314 and Richard Benyon 242 after Bob Stewart’s votes were redistributed.

If it was a work of fiction about Parliament you would think I have lost the plot. But this year’s election for the defence committee has produced the strangest bedfellows. Jeremy Corbyn, feared Leftie Labour leadership contender,a darling with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and scourge of  renewing Britain’s independent deterrent has nominated  the most right wing Tory you could possibly find to chair the powerful Commons defence committee.

Jeremy Corbyn Mp, Trident's greatest enemy

Jeremy Corbyn Mp, Trident’s greatest enemy

He is backer of Julian Lewis, a passionate defender of the armed forces and the greatest defender of spending billions on  renewing Trident in Parliament. See his campaign link- he’s on a minesweeper to make his point.JL & HMS GLASSERTON (4) I am told this extraordinary situation has arisen because Leftie Jeremy and Right winger Julian share a joint passion that overrides their contrary views. Both of them want the issue of Trident properly debated  in Parliament – one to destroy any reason for having it , the other to make sure the penny pinching Tory government does not back track on spending money on it. Both are in their own different ways, anti-Establishment, and both believe in a thorough examination of the facts and proper probe into the defence budget is essential and they don’t trust more establishment Tory or Labour MPs to do a thorough job. And the amazing fact is that among Labour MPs Julian has also attracted support from the awkward squad. John McDonnell, another Labour Leftie  who also supports abolishing Trident has backed him. So has Kevan Jones, a shadow defence minister, well known for digging deep into any issue – even if he isn’t on the far Left of Labour. Among independent non establishment  Tories Julian has the support of Dr Liam Fox, Sarah Wollaston. and Charles Walker. Julian is standing against Richard Benyon and Bob Stewart. Full details on all the candidates are on the House of Commons defence committee website. Result on Wednesday.

Putting Lawyers First: Will the Child Sex Abuse Inquiry really benefit survivors?

New Zealand dame Justice Lowell Goddard : Putting lawyers first pic credit: http://www.teara.govt.nz/

New Zealand dame Justice Lowell Goddard : Putting lawyers first pic credit: http://www.teara.govt.nz/

The extraordinary disclosure reported on the Exaro website and in The Sunday Times today that the Goddard Judicial inquiry into child sexual abuse will recruit a record number of in-house QCs and lawyers raises  more than just a few eyebrows.

It appears that Ben Emmerson, the QC who survived the cull that abolished the independent panel, will be interviewing for 20 more barristers – ten of them QC’s – this month This far outstrips the number employed for the Leveson inquiry into the press or the very long running Saville Inquiry into the  Northern Ireland ” Bloody Sunday ” atrocity.

It is not surprising that survivors – already excluded from the panel and any meaningful input into the proceedings – have reacted with fury. If you also take into account that every organisation from the police to local government, the security services to Whitehall and ministers, would want to bring along their own QC at public expense, you can see where the phrase ” lawyer fest” comes from.

And you have to add that most of the remaining shrunk panel are also lawyers or connected to the law. The remaining people are  Alexis Jay, author of the report last year on CSA in Rotherham; Drusilla Sharpling, barrister and former senior prosecutor; Malcolm Evans, professor of public international law; and Ivor Frank, barrister and advisor to the Home Office..Only Alexis Jay is not connected to the law.

If you compare the Goddard panel with the former Hillsborough Panel and the Gosport Independent Panel (I declare an interest I am a member) and you can see how the members come from diverse backgrounds with different interests. They are not predominately lawyers.

True it is clear that  Emmerson has asked for a wide range of legal expertise including specialists in child care, local authorities, public law and criminal law.But that is not the same as having a mix of people with different experience away from the law courts.

Indeed the whole process could end up as  being an intimidatory experience for any survivor wishing to give evidence.

Ben Emmerson: A Thomas Cromwell figure? Pic Credit: UN

Ben Emmerson: A Thomas Cromwell figure?
Pic Credit: UN

There is also a question about Emmerson himself. He is a very well-regarded human rights lawyer but he is also ( according to past members of the panel ) an arrogant and bombastic figure who might well create division rather than the healing process needed in such a sensitive area.

His powers of patronage are large and he appears to be creating his own Empire  Indeed in another century  a parallel could be drawn with Thomas Cromwell  – a brilliant lawyer and advocate for Henry VIII  (read Hilary Mantel’s excellent novels) who wielded enormous patronage. He ended up being beheaded for heresy and treason on Tower Hill. I am not suggesting such an ISIS style modern fate for Emmerson but the way this has been done suggests he is acting as a Cromwell type figure to Lady Goddard and Theresa May. His solutions may not be the right ones and one would not want  the inquiry to be not trusted as a result.

The other inquiries have  one public aim – putting the families involved first. The parallel aim for the Goddard Inquiry should be to put the survivors at the centre of its work. At the moment it is looking like that it is putting lawyers first – and  if lawyers are not careful, they will seen  by survivors ( if they have not already said so) as exploiting survivors for their own personal careers.,

Cutting councillors in Newcastle upon Tyne: A dangerous move to dilute democracy

Newcastle: the first place to face serious cuts in its councillors? Pic Credit: Free Foto.Com

Newcastle: the first place to face serious cuts in its councillors?
Pic Credit: FreeFoto.Com

Most political activists know that by 2018 the Conservatives will have succeeded in pushing through boundary changes that will cut the number of MPs from 650 to 600 at a time when the UK’s population is rising.

Not so well-known is that there is a local government equivalent now under way by the Local Government Boundary Commission for England which is not being made nearly as obvious.

Papers circulating among councillors in the Newcastle upon Tyne reveal that the Commission is about to look at a series of big cities as part of an ongoing review of local ward boundaries. The bombshell, I am told, is, as a result, the number of councillors in the city could fall by a massive one-third – from 78 to 54. And that similar exercises could see reductions in councillors in Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham and Bristol.

The rationale behind the Commission’s interest is that changes in voter registration from households to individuals have seen a big drop in people registering to vote. Particularly affected are university students who used to be  registered  en bloc by the authority and now have to register themselves. Newcastle,Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol  and London all have huge student concentrations and registration has plummeted. Also  the growth in privately rented accommodation has seen people not always registering when they change address. Once there a ten per cent difference either way the Commission thinks it should review the authority.

It was the student drop that attracted the Commission’s attention to Newcastle. One ward,Ouseburn. saw figures down 30 per cent. But a registration drive saw this fall confined to four per cent.

Officially the Commission say they have no political motive – though it would hit Labour councils disproportionately – and only act if there are big changes in wards.

It told me:“ The Commission will intervene in authorities where 30% of wards have an imbalance of + or – 10% from the average elector: councillor ratio. This is how the Commission builds the main part of its programme.”

“The Commission has no view on whether the number of councillors should increase, decrease or stay the same for any authority. Each council is treated on a case by case basis and the Commission will make its judgment on the strength of the evidence it sees during the review process.”

It did confirm that big cities were being targeted:

” Several metropolitan authorities will form part of the Commission’s England-wide work programme over the next two years mainly because they have relatively high levels of electoral inequality between wards. ”

However documents circulating in Newcastle suggest differently. They reveal the council asked them to drop the review – because it did not meet the criteria( now only two out of 26 wards meet that figure) but the Commission refused.

The Commission confirmed they have cut councillors outside big cities citing   Stafford (-19 councillors), Suffolk Coastal (-13) and South Bucks (-12). They also say they have not cut councillors in Leicester, York, Bristol and Sheffield.

The one increase is in Hertfordshire which will have 78 councillors – an extra seat is being created in Hatfield in the constituency of Grant Shapps, the former Tory chairman. To be fair the councillors in North Hatfield appear to be a little under represented.

To me this suggests another agenda that it is totally not in keeping with government’s vowed policy to promote localism.

It fits more with an agenda of promoting city mayors to replace elected authorities, slashing local government  costs and  reducing accountability at a very local level.  Would a totally privatised London borough of Barnet need many councillors for example? I am not saying the Commission may have this agenda – more its political masters. But the Commission is not being entirely open about what is happening.You will find none of this information in this blog on the Commission’s website as it says it talks to local authorities ( presumably in private) first.

Luckily at least one Newcastle MP, Nick Brown, a former chief whip, seems to be aware of what could be happening and I fully expect him to start raising this in Parliament.I hope others will do so.