Labour will back global anti-corruption court

Labour will back global anti-corruption court

09 July 2023 ( The Guardian )

Labour will restore the UK’s tarnished global reputation by backing a global anti-corruption court and by reinstating a requirement to follow international law in the ministerial code, the shadow foreign secretary will say in a speech on Monday.

David Lammy says the measures will restore the country’s reputation for keeping its word, as well as going some way to undo the damage caused by Conservative party scandals in recent years.

In a speech to the Bingham Centre, he will say international law is “the connective tissue which binds us to other nations”, but has been treated with a cavalier disrespect by the Conservative government.

Lammy’s support for an international anti-corruption court marks him out as a frontrunner in supporting a concept first proposed by a US judge, Mark Wolf; the NGO Integrity Initiatives International and a growing list of international backers include Canada, the Netherlands, Ecuador, Moldova, and Nigeria. Wolf argues that a hole in international criminal architecture permits global oligarchs to escape the law.

The Foreign Office minister, Lord Ahmad, last week rejected the court’s establishment, claiming that a meeting in November of 40 countries in The Hague had extensively discussed and rejected the proposal, but campaigners say the meeting had not been convened to discuss the proposal, no clear majority opposition emerged, and no background papers had been presented.

Lammy said the court would be designed to prosecute the most egregious acts of corruption undertaken by the kleptocrats, the most corrupt businesspeople and those who enable them, adding: “Labour is determined to clean up the London laundromat at home and defeat kleptocracy around the world.”

The idea of the court has wide international support, according to a survey conducted by the Stimson Centre. The highest level of support is found among the Brics group of countries, where corruption is a huge issue: 87% in China, 81% in South Africa, 80% in Brazil, and 74% in India. In the European members of the G7, the percentage is also 70% or more.

Lammy’s proposed changes to the ministerial code follow subtle changes made to it by the Conservative government. The 2010 version of the code referred to an “overarching duty on ministers to comply with the law, including international law and treaty obligations, and to uphold the administration of justice and to protect the integrity of public life”.

But in a revised version, the sentence has been edited to say only that there is an “overarching duty on ministers to comply with the law and to protect the integrity of public life”. The court of appeal ruled that there was no requirement to restore the original wording.

Lammy will point to Margaret Thatcher’s “abiding respect for the rule of law” to argue that the Conservatives have abandoned the once bipartisan consensus, saying: “No British government of modern times has been so brazen in its contempt for international law or brought such a litany of law-breaking legislation for parliament to consider as this Conservative government.

“With Keir Starmer in No 10, the rules will be clear: ministers will uphold international law.”

Both Starmer and Lammy have strong legal backgrounds that make them disposed to argue that the defence of the rule of law can guide foreign policy.