The British government is facing another High Court challenge from human rights activists, this time regarding the Ministry of Justice’s decision to sell prison services to Saudi Arabia and Oman.
The Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR) launched their challenge today, alleging that the MoJ has no legal power to provide such profit-making services. The so-called MoJ’s commercial arm – ironically titled ‘Just Solutions International’ – was revealed earlier this year but remains shrouded in secrecy, as next to nothing is known about it other than that it has submitted a £5.9 million proposal to Saudi Arabia and a similar bid to Oman. Lawyers for GCHR assert that providing such services overseas is not a “governmental purpose”.
Notably – just as with the announcement of the Royal Navy’s new naval base in Bahrain – there has been no parliamentary debate or vote on the subject, suggesting that the government does not want to draw attention to the matter. GCHR advisory board member Melanie Gingell states that:
“It seems to us that far from improving human rights standards in the detention systems of these undemocratic states, 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 states, that it condemns in public, but is happy to give support to in private.”
GCHR have submitted several Freedom of Information requests to the MoJ regarding JSi’s schemes, but all have been rejected. A week ago the Financial Times revealed that new Justice Secretary Michael Gove is planning to clamp down on Britain’s FoI laws, in order to make the process of obtaining information from government agencies much harder for citizens. This contrasts with the “revolution in government transparency” that David Cameron promised in 2011. Writing in the Telegraph, the PM stated:
“Information is power. It lets people hold the powerful to account, giving them the tools they need to take on politicians and bureaucrats.”
Such a reversal of policy is yet another nail in the coffin for Britain’s democracy.
GCHR is crowdfunding to cover the costs of their High Court application. To donate please visit: http://www.gofundme.com/saudiprisons