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R (Corner House Research) v Director of Serious Fraud Office [2008]

R (Corner House Research) v Director of Serious Fraud Office [2008] UKHL 60 revolved around the Serious Fraud Office's (SFO) decision to terminate an investigation into alleged bribery involving BAE Systems, a major defence contractor, and the Saudi Arabian government. The investigation pertained to suspected corruption in connection with the Al-Yamamah arms deal, a significant arms contract between BAE Systems and Saudi Arabia.


Corner House Research, an NGO involved in anti-corruption efforts, challenged the SFO's decision through judicial review, arguing that it violated the rule of law. The Divisional Court, consisting of Moses LJ and Sullivan J, ruled in favour of Corner House Research, asserting that the decision to halt the investigation constituted a breach of the rule of law.


However, the House of Lords, in its judgment, took a different stance. Lord Bingham, delivering the leading opinion, emphasised the seriousness of the potential consequences if the investigation were to proceed in defiance of the Saudi Arabian government's threats. He drew parallels with previous instances where British authorities had yielded to foreign pressure to safeguard lives, highlighting the complexity of the decision-making process.


Baroness Hale acknowledged the distasteful nature of succumbing to external threats but ultimately concurred with the House's decision. She recognised the Director's dilemma in balancing competing interests, including the imperative to uphold the rule of law and the duty to protect British lives.


Lord Brown, in his concurring opinion, underscored the Director's conscientious consideration of the implications for the rule of law before reaching his decision. He noted the Director's reluctance to suspend the investigation but acknowledged the reality of the threat posed by Saudi Arabia.


In conclusion, while the Divisional Court found the SFO's decision to be in breach of the rule of law, the House of Lords, upon careful consideration of the circumstances and potential consequences, deemed the decision lawful. This case underscores the nuanced and complex nature of upholding the rule of law in the face of external pressures and competing interests.


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