Monday, 1 February 2016

Policing International Assistance in the Justice Field

Last week’s National Audit Office report on the Government’s ill-fated venture Justice Solutions International will seem to many the last word on the subject. The NAO found that the Commercial arm of NOMS which was disbanded in September 2015 ran up net costs of about £1.1 million, although this was largely because JSI was forced to withdraw from lucrative but highly controversial contracts in Saudi Arabia and Oman.  Legal blogger David Allen Green has described the political fallout from the saga which led to JSI’s closure.

When the issue came to the fore last year, I offered a partial defence of efforts bring about improvements in overseas prison systems in order to reduce the risk of torture and ill treatment among detainees. But the Human Rights Watch line – that quiet training programmes are not a substitute for active British engagement with the Saudi authorities on human rights abuses in the justice system- has prevailed- (although I still consider that the two approaches are not mutually exclusive).

Why the NAO report should perhaps not be the last word is that a great deal more money is obtained for overseas work by the police than it has been by prisons or probation. The College of Policing has generated more than £8.5 million as a result of the international services that it has provided since its inception in December 2012. The Government told the Home Affairs Committee last year that the College should "seek to broaden business opportunities in both new and existing markets in the UK and overseas" which might include delivering training internationally; however, this should take into account the human rights records of the countries involved.

Has it done so? The countries, listed on the College's website, which have been involved include Saudi and Oman; well over a third of the 54 countries where help has been provided retain the death penalty for ordinary crimes.  When Labour
MP Andy Slaughter asked a parliamentary question last year about the contract with Saudi, he was told that the College of Policing in common with other organisations, does not routinely publish details of commercial agreements and has no plans to do so. The Home Secretary has no plans to direct the College of Policing to disclose this information. FoI requests from the BBC revealed that 270 Saudi Police officers had been trained since 2012 and 26 College staff deployed in Saudi. Further information about the cost and nature of the support have not been forthcoming. One of the reasons for the College's reticence is that they claim to have "a duty to the organisations we work with to maintain an appropriate level of confidentiality on both technical and commercial details."  

Is that the final word? Following the JSI report,  maybe the NAO should turn their attention to the commercial activities of the College of Policing to ensure the taxpayer is getting value for money. And surely we  need a fuller  debate about how the UK provides international technical assistance in both the policing and justice sectors, the risks involved and the safeguards that ought to be in place. 

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