Why is no one talking about how 9 British judges – including a Lord – work for the UAE?

It’s a bit like the authorities in Bahrain appointing UK-trained and £5m UK-funded 'torture investigation units' – while continuing to sentence hotel workers to death on the basis of forced confessions

Anthony Harwood
Friday 23 November 2018 17:05 GMT
The UAE’s London ambassador defends trial of Matthew Hedges but says his government is studying a request for clemency made by his family

In a shameless attempt to throw a cloak of decency over his country’s discredited judicial system, the UAE ambassador to London yesterday had the gall to compare it to the one we have in Britain.

Sulaiman Hamid Almazroui said both nations had an “independent judiciary” where the government “does not dictate verdicts”.

He then had the temerity to tell us that Matthew Hedges, 31, has been found guilty because of “compelling evidence”, without even detailing any of what that was.

Whereas Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt says he has seen “absolutely no evidence” that the Durham PhD student was a spy.

If this “compelling evidence” is no more than Hedges’ signature on a piece of paper in Arabic, which he does not understand, then it is obviously worthless.

The ambassador’s claim that the government does not dictate the court’s rulings is also tosh.

A report in 2010 by the watchdog, Freedom House, found the judiciary is not independent, with court rulings subject to review by the political leadership.

All the judges and lawyers are political appointees.

So, ambassador Almazroui, where are the reporters who sit in on your court hearings or ask you questions the end of your press “conference” where you just read out a prepared statement?

As Matthew’s wife, Daniela Tejada, said afterwards: “The judicial system in the UAE and the UK cannot be compared.”

She also pointed out that her husband had been held in solitary confinement for more than five months without charge or a lawyer, and when he did receive consular access he was not able to “talk openly”.

Thankfully, such an abject failure of an open, fair and transparent system of justice is not tolerated in Britain.

Which makes it all the more surprising that the judicial system in the United Arab Emirates is stuffed with British judges, one of whom still sits in the House of Lords.

Bear in mind that the UAE has a toxic human rights record, a country where domestic violence against women is legal and regime critics are tortured and jailed without trial.

So what on earth is Lord David Hope of Craighead, head of the Crossbench peers in the House of Lords, doing out there – apart from making a tidy sum of money?

Ditto the Hon Sir Jeremy Cooke, Sir Richard Field, Sir David Steele, William Stone QC, the Hon Lord James McGhie, Sir Michael Burton and the Hon Sir Andrew Smith.

Last month Dame Elizabeth Gloster – who presided over the 2011 Abramovich-Berezovsky hearing – became the UK’s first female judge at the Abu Dhabi courts, following the retirement of Lord Saville.

All these people, either coming to the end of their careers or already retired, are registered to sit as judges in the financial courts either of Dubai or Abu Dhabi.

Lord McGhie was even registered to sit in the UAE while presiding over the Court of Session in Edinburgh, and Lord Hope has been appointed chief justice of the Abu Dhabi Global Market Courts.

Matthew Hedges was found guilty at Abu Dhabi’s Federal Court of Appeal and has the right to appeal before the Federal Supreme Court for re-trial.

But they are all part of the same discredited judicial system.

By having the cream of the British legal establishment running their courts, the Emiratis are able to present a fake cloak of respectability to the outside world.

It’s a bit like the authorities in Bahrain appointing UK-trained and £5m UK-funded “torture investigation units” – while continuing to sentence hotel workers to death on the basis of forced confessions.

It presents a veneer behind which the same atrocities are able to continue because it allows the Bahraini authorities to turn to their critics and say: “Well, the UK is keeping an eye on us now so how we can be misbehaving” – while continuing to do so.

By propping up the UAE’s judicial system, British judges are doing exactly the same disservice to people like Matthew Hedges.

Their presence means that people like Almazroui can turn and say: “C’mon, our justice system is just like yours!”

When he was at his lowest ebb in a Dubai prison, David Haigh reportedly wrote to one of the British judges, setting out the abusive treatment he was receiving.

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After all, the former Leeds United boss thought, don’t judges have a legal and moral imperative to investigate allegations of mistreatment? Surely, he thought, a fellow Brit and a judge would help me out?

His cries for help were apparently ignored.

As he wrote afterwards: “Even as I was commencing a hunger strike, there was no recognition at all. Instead my torture continued, leaving me with fractured bones, teeth and eye damage and with severe post-traumatic stress disorder.”

Shame on those who ignored his pleas, and who work for a system which jails academics simply for asking uncomfortable questions.

Anthony Harwood is a former foreign editor of the Daily Mail

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