UK-Saudi Arabia co-operation on prison service

Meanwhile, in London – a baffling plan is afoot.

The UK Ministry of Justice (MoJ) is hoping to profit from selling its expertise to the prison service in Saudi Arabia, a country notorious for public beheadings, floggings, amputations and courts that regularly violate human rights.

A new commercial arm of the justice ministry, staffed by civil servants, has bid for a £5.9m contract in Saudi Arabia. Just Solutions international (JSi) will also soon start setting up a probation service in Macedonia, and is in the running to build a prison in Oman.


How can any branch of the UK government have anything whatever to do with the prison service in Saud-family Arabia of all things? What next? A contract to paint flowers on the handles of the sticks they use to flog people?

Human rights groups have raised concerns about the MoJ working so closely with a regime currently under scrutiny over the botched execution of a woman who died protesting her innocence and the harsh punishment meted out to a liberal blogger.

Allan Hogarth, Amnesty’s UK head of policy and government affairs, said: “Amnesty has serious concerns about Saudi Arabia’s justice system, given its use of the death penalty, the prevalence of torture in detention, and its use of cruel and degrading punishment.

Also? There’s the fact that the “justice system” is clogged with people who committed nothing recognizable as a crime. The UK MoJ shouldn’t be going within a thousand miles of it.

The ministry said that all JSi projects had to be signed off by the Foreign Office and the local embassy after an evaluation that covered human rights, but declined to provide further details on the grounds that the project was “commercially sensitive”.

Oh, well, if it’s commercially sensitive that makes all the difference. If there’s a chance the UK government can make some money off the deal, then human rights can just go take a flying leap, yeah?

The JSi bid was featured in a December report to parliament that also gave details of a memorandum of understanding on judicial cooperation signed by the UK and Saudi Arabian justice ministers in Riyadh in September.

A memorandum of understanding. On judicial cooperation. With the Saud family.

It said the contract would be “to conduct a training needs analysis across all the learning and development programmes within the Saudi Arabian prison service”. The legal affairs blogger David Allen Green first drew attention to the the contract on his Jack of Kent website.

Like all the overseas projects run by JSi, it aims to raise funds for the National Offender Management Service, which runs prisons and probation services in England and Wales.

Blood money. Dirty filthy blood money. You bastards.


  1. PatrickG says

    What baffles me is it’s not just blood money. It’s a pifflingly small amount of blood money. £5.9m is a lot of money for an individual, but for a contract of this nature… what, precisely, are they going to be doing? Not bloody much, it seems.

    It is also unclear how much money JSi will be able to earn for the justice ministry, or whether that income will come at the expense of other services, as there are no public accounts for the organisation.

    Why do the words “slush fund” come to mind? 😛

    The report to parliament said that JSi would generate more than half a million pounds “in revenue” for the government, but gave no details of the organisation’s outgoings.

    Piffling sums in return for complicity (not to mention the bad PR!). Go home, JSi, you’re drunk.

  2. Eric MacDonald says

    So, now we see why the flag on the palace was at half mast! Do the Brits not realise that the one thing that threatens their democracy just now is countries like Saudi Arabia? I wonder if they will teach Saudi swordsmen the right way to cut off a head!?

  3. Dunc says

    The UK is actually one of the leading suppliers of what is euphemistically known as “security equipment” to Saudi Arabia (and various other unpleasant regimes). We specialise in things like manacles, leg irons (although they’re technically marketed as “outsize handcuffs”, because exporting leg irons is illegal), electro-shock batons, and so forth. The comedian and anti-arms-trade campaigner Mark Thomas goes into quite a lot of detail on this in his book “As Used On The Famous Nelson Mandela”. (The title is a verbatim quote from a security equipment catalogue.)

    The US may be the world’s no 1 arms dealer, but if you want to tie somebody up and subject them to electric shocks, we’re your guys.

    The best part of it is that it’s all covered by “export credit guarantee”, so if your regime gets overthrown, we’ll just add the bill to your sovereign debt and in the meantime, we’ll cover it out of our “foreign aid” budget.

  4. Dunc says

    I should add that all this is not only perfectly legal, it’s actively supported by our government and diplomatic services.

  5. davehooke says

    It’s not just the palace. The flags were at half mast on the local (North London) prison this weekend!

  6. Pierce R. Butler says

    Dunc @ # 3: The UK is actually one of the leading suppliers of what is euphemistically known as “security equipment” … We specialise in things like manacles, leg irons …, electro-shock batons, and so forth.

    What about good old-fashioned classic apparatus such as thumbscrews, racks, strappado gear, cats-o’-nine-tails, iron maidens, breaking wheels, branks, and so many other technologies developed during the Golden Age of church-state collaboration? The market for designer chastity belts alone ought to bring in millions per month!

  7. Dunc says

    I think we still do thumbscrews, actually… These days, your discerning torturer generally prefers methods which don’t leave obvious marks, and which are less likely to result in death. You can’t torture dead people.

  8. Richard Smith says

    Just Solutions international.”

    Obviously, they’re using that word in the sense of “only” or “simply,” and definitely not in the sense of “fair,” “equitable,” or “law-abiding.”

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