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Double victory for anti-corruption watchdog

The Corner House, who campaigns against corruption in international trade, has won an important double victory against the government who agreed to consult them on anti-corruption rules.

The High Court in London

20 January 2005

The Corner House, an NGO that campaigns against corruption in international trade, has won an important double victory.

Corner House instructed judicial review expert Richard Stein of Leigh Day and leading Human Rights barrister Lord Lester of Herne Hill QC to advise and represent it in a challenge to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, Patricia Hewitt.

Government concedes at doors of Court

The Export Credit Guarantee Department (the ECGD), part of the Department for Trade and Industry, underwrites large value exports from the UK using taxpayers money. Last spring, following campaigning by the Corner House and an increasing public awareness of the prevalence of bribery in large export deals, the ECGD issued new tighter rules to reduce corruption.

Following intense lobbying of the ECGD and Ms Hewitt by industry (including the CBI, BAE Systems and Rolls Royce), these rules were significantly watered down. Corner House, whose campaigning had been instrumental in the introduction of the new anti-corruption procedures, asserted that they ought to be consulted on any changes, but the Government continued to listen only to industry and introduced the weakened measures in December 2004.

Judicial review proceedings were issued and, last week, the Government conceded at the doors of the Court, agreeing to instigate a full public consultation on the changes it had made to the anti-corruption measures and to pay the Corner House’s legal costs.

Breakthrough for cash-strapped NGOs

The case saw the first ever grant of a full protective costs order in public law litigation. The protective costs order meant that the Corner House could bring this case safe in the knowledge that they would not have to pay the government’s legal costs if the case were lost.

The Corner House’s case is a dramatic breakthrough for non-governmental organisations representing the public interest in litigation.

Although firms like Leigh Day are often willing to act for their clients on a no-win no-fee basis, the risk of having to pay a public authorities legal costs can threaten a smaller organisation’s existence. Without this protective costs order, the Corner House would have been unable to bring the case and the Government would not have been called to account.

The Court of Appeal granted the protective costs order shortly before Christmas and the full judgment is still awaited. Further details of the practical effect of the judgment will be published on this website once the judgment becomes available.

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