Justice secretary Michael Gove has begun a review of a controversial programme inside his own ministry to sell UK justice services to Saudi Arabia, Oman, and other countries with shaky human rights records.
Following a High Court challenge against Just Solutions International (JSi) launched in June, the MoJ confirmed to IBTimes on 30 July that Gove launched the review to scrutinise the programme. He is due to submit his findings about the practices of JSi, the commercial consulting branch of the UK's Ministry of Justice, by the end of August.
The Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR) launched a legal challenge against the programme on 29 June calling it "unlawful". Its challenge questioned the legality of farming out the UK's justice consulting services to the likes of the authoritarian regimes of Saudi Arabia and Oman. Gove's review will get to the heart of that issue.
The MoJ has "refused to disclose human rights compliance," around the programme said Adam Hundt, a partner at Deighton Pierce Glynn Solicitors who represents the human rights organisation. This was because "elected politicians have been denied the opportunity to discuss how such a vehicle should operate". In setting up JSi, the programme was not subject to any parliamentary checks or approvals, he argued when filing the legal challenge.
In August 2014, the UK bid £5.9m (€8.4m, $9.1m) on a contract offered by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, according to the MoJ's mid-year 2014 report released in December of that year. The contract would have JSi, the commercial brand for the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), evaluate what kind of training employees inside the Saudi prison system need.
The Saudi justice system's human rights record has been called into question as the country hit a record number of beheadings and executions in 2015 and has ignored global opposition to its flogging of blogger Raif Badawi for his secular views.
Gove's predecessor, Chris Grayling, visited Riyadh in September 2014 to sign a Memorandum of Understanding on judicial cooperation between the two countries and "promote UK legal services in Saudi Arabia".
In August 2014, JSi also made a "large scale" bid on a contract to design new prisons for the Royal Oman Police. The programme also won an £848,000 contract to help develop Macedonia's probation services.
JSi's mysterious disappearing website
Following the High Court challenge, and the beginning of the review, the JSi website was taken offline on 14 July, according to the website's source code. MoJ employee Andy Grocott, the NOMS CFO Lead Manager inside the IT office, took it down. A source reached inside the office said it was a "managerial decision" to take down the site.
The MoJ press office said otherwise. "It has been unavailable for technical reasons," said an MoJ spokesperson. "One of them was that the contract with the company that keeps it up came to an end this month."
However, soon after IBTimes UK made enquiries about why the site was removed from the web, it appeared back online. "It was that they must have spoken to them about it again," said the MoJ's spokesperson when asked about the site's reappearance.