Lords back SFO over decision to end inquiry into BAE

The House of Lords has backed the Serious Fraud Office's decision to drop its investigation into the £43bn arms deal between BAE Systems and Saudi Arabia, saying the investigation could have put British lives at risk.

The five law lords unanimously overturned a judgment by the High Court in April, which said the watchdog had acted "unlawfully" in halting its inquiry into alleged bribery and corruption over the Al-Yamamah deals, in which BAE supplied Tornado and Hawk fighter jets to the Saudis in 1985.

The ruling means that the SFO acted lawfully when it dropped the case over fears that the Saudis would withdraw co-operation over terrorism intelligence.

Lord Bingham of Cornhill, the senior peer on the panel, said: "The director's decision was one he was lawfully entitled to make. It may indeed be doubted whether a responsible decision maker could, on the facts before the director, have decided otherwise." He added that the decision was "courageous". Lord Roger, another peer presiding over the SFO's appeal, added: "The director concluded that he had no option... British lives would be put at risk."

The SFO welcomed the ruling and said its former director Robert Wardle had been vindicated. It launched the investigation in 2004 into alleged bribery and corruption related to the deal. BAE and the Saudis deny any wrongdoing. But the then Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, warned that it could damage national security as it threatened to sour diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia, and he urged the SFO to drop the case.

The move was challenged by the environmental and social justice campaign group Corner House and the group Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT).

The case went to the High Court, where, in April, Lord Justice Moses and Mr Justice Sullivan overturned the SFO's decision, saying: "We fear for the reputation of the administration of justice if it can be perverted by a threat." The campaigners were not impressed with yesterday's verdict. Nicholas Hildyard of The Corner House, said: "With the law as it is, a government can simply invoke 'national security' to drive a coach and horses through international anti-bribery legislation, as the Government has done, to stop corrupt investigations."

Separately, a joint committee of MPs and peers scrutinising the Draft Constitutional Renewal Bill is to back the Attorney General to keep his legal and political function and give direction in individual cases, including over national security.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in