Just Solutions International, the commercial wing of Britain’s Ministry of Justice, has been selling ‘expertise’ to oppressive regimes including Oman and the Saudis. It was established under Mr Gove’s predecessor Chris Grayling in 2013, assisted by ‘professional services network’ PwC but Michael Gove, Minister for Justice, has now closed it amid criticism that it was selling prison expertise to countries with poor human rights records.
Corbyn, “but why on earth was it set up in the first place?”
A few days ago, Hencke reported that Jeremy Corbyn had challenged David Cameron to explain why the British government could not cancel a contract with the Saudis to provide training for their prison system – just as it was about to execute a teenage dissident and crucify him (below right).
Jeremy Corbyn had written: “Will you step in to terminate the Ministry of Justice’s bid to provide services to the Saudi prisons system – the very body, I should stress, which will be responsible for carrying out Ali’s execution? . . . Ali’s case is especially urgent – the secrecy of the Saudi system means that he could face execution at any time, and even his family may only find out after the event. There is therefore no time to spare in taking this up with the Saudi authorities, if we are to prevent a grave injustice.”
In his conference speech, addressing Cameron, Corbyn added: “And while you’re about it, terminate that bid made by our Ministry of Justice’s to provide services for Saudi Arabia – which would be required to carry out the sentence that would be put down on Mohammed Ali al-Nimr.”
Though it was alleged that the government would face punitive penalty clauses for cancelling the contract, less than two days afterwards, the minister retracted this explanation, admitting that no financial penalties applied and Parliament had been given “incorrect information.” He had to “apologise unreservedly” in a letter to the MP, Nigel Huddleston, Conservative MP for Mid Worcestershire.
The critical factor: HMG’s broader engagement with Saudi Arabia
Hencke had highlighted the real reason they did not cancel in a Tribune article; in the words of Andrew Selous, the junior minister at the Ministry of Justice: “The critical factor was the strong view from across Government that withdrawing at such an advance stage would harm HMG’s broader engagement with Saudi Arabia.
Michael Gove’s finer hour
The withdrawal follows the Times reports of a cabinet rift on the issue: Michael Gove, the justice secretary, wanted to pull out of the deal, saying the government should not be assisting a regime that uses beheadings, stoning, crucifixions and lashings to punish its citizens. The Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond had warned that cancelling it would not be in the national interest as it would make Britain appear an untrustworthy ally – and No 10 had agreed, the paper reported.
David Hencke adds that Lord Falconer, the shadow Lord Chancellor, has reported this to the National Audit Office – because Just Solutions International.deserves a thorough financial examination. He gives credit to lawyer David Allen Green – known as Jack O’Kent on Twitter- who has assiduously followed this issue. He can be followed on the JackofKentblog which carries an account with snapshots from the Times article.
Nicholas Watt and Alan Travis in the Guardian report, “Corbyn responded to the cancellation saying: “David Cameron has been shamed into a U-turn, a strong message to repressive regimes that the UK is a beacon for human rights and that this contract bid is unacceptable in the 21st century, and would damage Britain’s standing in the world on this terrible contract, but why on earth was it set up in the first place?”
A reader from Jamaica, an investigative journalist, the Jamaica Observer, the Guardian and the Metro shed light on the subject for those, like the writer, who only heard a brief radio broadcast reference to David Cameron’s reply/non reply to the Jamaican request for reparations – planning and reconstruction, not cash as reported.
The Metro reports that Sir Hilary Beckles, chairman of the Caricom Reparations Commission, wrote a gracious open letter (full text in the Jamaica Observer) telling David Cameron that he has benefited from slavery on the island through his ancestral links to General Sir James Duff:
‘You are a grandson of the Jamaican soil who has been privileged and enriched by your forebears’ sins of the enslavement of our ancestors. Successive governments in this land, a place still groaning under the weight of this injustice, have done well during the 53 years of sovereignty, but the burden of inherited mess from slavery and colonialism has overwhelmed many of our best efforts.’
David Cameron failed to reply directly to this call for Britain to help with the planning of economic reconstruction and to that made by Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller (above). Downing Street stepped in, saying that the prime minister does not believe reparations or apologies for slavery are the right approach.
The right approach?
One of Jamaica’s citizen bloggers comments: “If Cameron was in Jamaica to make some postive announcements like the development of IT academies or the major redevelopment of the Jamaican Railway etc I would have said ‘wise move’. But a bleeding prison? China assists Ethiopia to build a state of the art light rail network and Jamaica gets a new prison from Blighty”.
They wanted bread but you offered a stone:
‘Expertise’ in prison services is the latest British export to hit the headlines, though far from being as rewarding as its arms trade. In the news recently, Just Solutions International, the commercial wing of the Ministry of Justice, has offered the Saudi regime its services.
David Hencke reports, on his blog, that Jeremy Corbyn (about whom our Jamaican correspondent has written perceptively) has challenged David Cameron to explain why the British government can’t cancel this contract with the Saudis to provide training for their prison system, just as it is about to execute a teenage dissident and crucify his body.
Will a resurrected, renamed Ministry of Justice spin-off be assisting in the £25m prison proposed for Jamaica?
As our blogger quotes from the BBC News, more than 600 Jamaican nationals are in UK jails but cannot be deported because of Jamaica’s poor prison conditions. – BBC News, he asks:
“Should the current & former Jamaican government ministers feel embarrassed at the poor archaic prison conditions that they have overseen since 1962? If there is one set of people that the British establishment enjoys disrespecting it is definitely Jamaicans. Whether through law/order, education, immigration/visas, trade and now this . . .
“The real reason behind Cameron’s £25 million gift is no doubt to cut the prison capital and running cost to the UK Treasury”.
“David Cameron did announce a £300 million fund for infrastructure development across 8 English speaking Caribbean nations. I just hope the Caribbean leaders and their civil servants double check the small print on such pledges. Refer to Number 10 website . . .
“This is a moment for Jamaica’s opposition leader Andrew Holness to take the initiative and say hell no DC. But given Holness was a guest at the last Tory Party annual conference I wonder. . .
“October is black history month in the UK and in Jamaica October has national heritage week. Cameron’s handout is not the kind of bilateral collaboration worth appreciating. Peace”.