Here's why the UK government was planning a £6m deal to modernise Saudi Arabian prisons in the first place

James Nickerson
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Justice secretary Michael Gove had lobbied the government to cancel the deal (Source: Getty)

Why the UK is pulling out of the deal

Prime Minister David Cameron has backtracked on a deal worth £6m with the Saudi Arabian Prison Service due to the country's human rights record and criminal justice system.

The cancellation is a victory for justice minister Michael Gove, who had lobbied the Prime Minister to cancel the deal, against the foreign secretary Philip Hammond who wanted the deal to go ahead.

This comes as Cameron writes to the Saudi authorities to raise concerns about Karl Andree, who is to face 350 lashes for possessing home made wine. His family are concerned that becuase of his age (74) he will not survive the punishment.

However, Corbyn has also claimed the backtrack as a victory for the opposition as he has stepped up rhetoric around Saudi human rights abuses.

What was the deal trying to achieve anyway?

In March the UK government published a document entitled "Saudi Arabia - Country of Concern". In the document, the government outlines "incremental improvements" on the country's human rights in 2014.

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But the government still had "concerns over the human rights situation". One of the issues causing concern was access to justice and the rule of law.

In an attempt to push this forward, home secretary Theresa May signed a memorandum of understanding to help modernise the Saudi interior ministry.

The document detailed reforms already implemented, including money spent on judicial training and new courts. But the government said there were still concerns as the transparency of a case is often, in Saudi Arabia, at the "discretion of the judge".

So, the government decided that to assist the Saudi justice sector, the UK National Offender Management Service, which is responsible for the correctional services in England and Wales, would put forward a bid for a contract to conduct training across learning and development programmes within the Saudi Arabian Prison Service.

The bid came through Just Solutions International, the commercial arm of the UK National Offender Management Service, which provides services and consultancy to help improve justice systems across the world.

Read more: Four things you should know about the Tories' plan to scrap the Human Rights Act

In September it was announced Justice Solutions International, which was formed in 2010 by the justice minister at the time, Chris Grayling, would cease to exist.

However, in September prisons minister Andrew Sealous, responding to a written question, said: "[The project] is sufficiently far advanced that the government has decided withdrawing at this late stage would be detrimental to HMG’s wider interests".

Ultimately though, Gove, who became the justice secretary in May, wanted the deal scrapped because Britain should not be seen to condone a strict interpretation of Islamic law.

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