By James Wilson
On Monday 17 December 2012, the Qatar Law Forum held a Symposium on the Rule of Law at the Mansion House, hosted by the Lord Mayor of London, Alderman Roger Gifford. The occasion was the visit to the UK by His Excellency Dr Ali Bin Fetais Al Marri, the Attorney General of Qatarand the UN Special Advocate on Stolen Asset Recovery.
The theme of the symposium was the rule of law and countering corruption in international business. The event was opened by speeches from the Lord Mayor, Dr Al Marri and his English counterpart Dominic Grieve QC. The Lord Mayor emphasised the close links between London and Qatar and the importance of trade to both countries, which has to take place within a sound legal framework.
Following opening speeches by the Lord Mayor, Dr Al Marri and Dominic Grieve, a panel discussion was held to consider three points:
- Anti-Corruption – its place in the rule of law
- International co-operation between anti-corruption agencies
- The broader agenda – law, the rule of law, and why it is important.
The panel comprised:
- Michael Napier QC (chair)
- Sir Henry Brooke (President, the Slynn Foundation)
- Professor Jeffrey Jowell KCMG, QC (Director, the Bingham Centre on the Rule of Law)
- Professor KhawarQureshi QC (McNair Chambers, Doha)
- Baroness Scotland QC (immediate past Attorney-General)
- Robin Knowles CBE, QC (Chairman, Qatar Law Forum Organising Committee)
The Lord Mayor opened proceedings by emphasising the close links between London and Qatar. He also stressed the importance for business transactions of a proper legal framework governing business transactions, and the threat that corruption poses.
Dr Al Marri stated that there were two primary reasons behind the Arab Spring: (i) the absence of the rule of law and the ability of the state to provide justice; and (ii) corruption. When combined those two factors produced chaos. Although “freedom” was often cited in connection with the uprisings, it was not the real reason; the primary reason was the absence of justice.
He stressed that the UK should be proud of its judicial system, and that it had been prepared to lose the Second World War rather than abandon justice. The achievement of the legal system in the UK was an achievement for humanity, not just the UK.
Dr Al Marrithen discussed the development of judicial independence and the preservation of justice in the UK. He identified some of the key steps which had eliminated corruption in the judicial sphere, such as the fixing of judicial salaries in 1803, and also more modern measures such as the Bribery Act 2010.
Dominic Grieve QC reiterated the Government’s commitment to combatting corruption and referred to the relationship between the UK and Qatar.
Following the introductory speeches the panel discussion began.
Baroness Scotland QC stated that a global consensus on the definition of corruption was nearing. The consequences of not addressing corruption were apparent to all, but there was no need to put up with it. She also referred to issues of asset recovery in the context of the Arab Spring, and the different systems of law involved.
Khawar Qureshi QC stated that there was a need for consistency in legislation, not exceptions such as immunity. The 2010 Act showed that bribery would not be tolerated.
Sir Henry Brooke stated that his concern was judicial corruption. The Rule of Law could not exist where it was present. It was rife in some countries, and tended to take two forms. The first form was straightforward bribery. The second was more insidious and took the form of veiled threats against judges that they should award cases to a certain party or things would be the worse for them or their families.
Sir Jeffrey Jowell QC emphasised two things: (i) legal certainty; and (ii) equality. These were fundamental values common to all nations. Both were distorted and abused by corruption.
Robin Knowles QC said that corruption damages all parts of the rule of law and combatting corruption accordingly entails all aspects of the rule of law. Both the causes and consequences of corruption have to be addressed.
The discussion was then opened to the floor. Lucy Scott-Moncrieff, President of the Law Society, stated that justice was needed at the lowest levels. It was not simply in the judicial process but in all of society that justice was needed. Khawar Qureshi QC gave an example of where a taxi driver had his driving licence confiscated without justification and told that he would have to pay a sum of money for its return – that sort of corruption throughout all society was inimical to the rule of law.
The panel were asked to identify the single most important challenge for developing countries with regard to combatting corruption. Baroness Scotland QC stated that all in society had to be engaged in partnership and co-ordination against corruption; it was not simply a matter for elites. Sir Jeffrey Jowell QC mentioned two different aspects: first, prosecuting offences of corruption; and secondly, standards in public life – the notion of “jobs for the boys” has to be eliminated.
The issue was then raised of international co-operation. Baroness Scotland QC said that we have to accept that the world has changed. It used to be the case that international law could be ignored, but no longer. The question arose as to co-operation between prosecutions in G8 countries. Khawar Qureshi QC agreed about co-operation and pointed to the Abacha prosecution arising out of Nigeria as a great success story.
Sir Henry Brooke stated that corruption could not be changed by a single organisation or agency; relevant national and international institutions had to have a collaborative approach. He mentioned the role of the judicial college; training courses by the Bingham Centre on the Rule of Law; and the Slynn Foundation.
Sir Jeffrey Jowell QC stated that there needed to be a situation where there was no place to hide for corruption.
The point was made that the Qatar Law Forum draws together people from across the globe, allowing discussion of the value of shared definitions. Dr Al Marri was correct that the English legal system was not simply the achievement and property of the English, but of the entire world. The same should be true for all anti-corruption agencies.
The question was raised as to whether a definition was needed of corruption and of the relevant agencies. Baroness Scotland QC said that there was a need to better understand other jurisdictions. She mentioned Switzerland and its procedures for freezing assets.
It was observed that corruption was based on secrecy, and the question was raised as to whether it is time to decrease the right to confidentiality over assets, tax arrangements and the like, in the interests of transparency. Sir Jeffrey Jowell QC noted that that was a very difficult issue, requiring further consideration. Sir Henry Brooke noted that he had an instinctive horror at organs of the state probing around the affairs of private individuals. Robin Knowles QC added that transparency was never enough, nor adding regulations; it was a matter of ethics.
Michael Todd QC observed from the floor that when one looks at anti-corruption agencies it was a matter of basic education, and installing the view that corruption was not the way to do business.
Dominic Grieve QC noted the difficulty of challenging in some countries the system of day to day business where a payment to a third party was the established way of operating, and deeply ingrained as such. It would not be considered corruption. The question was therefore how to change such a culture.
Baroness Scotland QC said that it was a question of culture. There was broader agreement on corruption than there had been ten years ago.
Robin Knowles QC said there was a need for a definition of corruption. It need not be just one country’s view, and we might not necessarily reach a definition at the first attempt.
The third question was then raised as to why the rule of law was important. Khawar Qureshi QC referred to the history of the rule of law and how all religious texts emphasised the need for law.
Sir Jeffrey Jowell QC stated that the rule of law was not a vague concept. It involved settled law, enforced by fair and independent courts, equality of enforcement and respect for human dignity. It was a key element in investment, economic security and growth.
Sir Henry Brooke questioned how the poor had access to justice. Baroness Scotland QC agreed, and stated that the rule of law was not just for the strong.
Robin Knowles QC said that the rule of law was not just the responsibility of political leaders, judges and lawyers. Rather, it was the responsibility of all – politicians, teachers, civil servants, journalists and so on.
Michael Napier QC concluded proceedings by referring to Lord Phillips’ statement that corruption was a disease infecting many. The depressing fact was that there were countries not concerned with corruption, and where there remained a need to pay officials. The Arab Spring was in part the result of corruption. The Bribery Act showed that corruption abroad would no longer be tolerated. Thus, new global regulations were being introduced. Qatar was a leader in the fight against corruption, and this short symposium reflected the desire to fight it.
- The Qatar Law Forum 2012 was a larger-scale event held earlier in Doha in 2012, under the patronage of His Highness the Emir of the State of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani.
- A similar discussion, chaired by Khawar Qureshi QC, was also held in London in 2012 by Halsbury’s Law Exchange. A video of the event is available on Youtube here.