Campaigners angry as Lords overturn court's review of SFO

Two campaigning groups have reacted with dismay to a House of Lords decision to overturn a High Court ruling that the Serious Fraud Office acted unlawfully when it ended an investigation into a BAE Systems arms deals with Saudi Arabia.

In 2006, SFO director Robert Wardle terminated the investigation into the Al-Yamamah contract for the sale of Tornado fighter planes, originally negotiated by the Thatcher government.

Campaign Against Arms Trade and environmental and social justice charity The Corner House won a judicial review of the decision in April. The Administrative Court, a division of the High Court, concluded that the SFO decision had been unlawful because it had been taken on advice from the Government after it had been lobbied by BAE and there had been a threat from Saudi Arabia to withdraw diplomatic and intelligence cooperation.

Nicholas Hildyard, a spokesman for The Corner House, said the Lords' decision to overturn the verdict undermined the independence of prosecuting authorities.

He said: "Parliament needs urgently to plug this gaping hole in the constitutional checks and balances. With the law as it is, a government can simply invoke national security to drive a coach and horses through international anti-bribery legislation to stop corruption investigations."

Symon Hill, a spokesman for CAAT, said the two organisations had been overwhelmed by public support for their legal challenge. He said: "BAE and the Government will be quickly disappointed if they think that this ruling will bring an end to public criticism."

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