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Royal Courts Of Justice

Court of Appeal to hear legal challenge against arms sales to Saudi Arabia

The legal challenge brought by the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) against the government in relation to arms exports to Saudi Arabia will be heard in the Court of Appeal between Tuesday 9 April to Thursday 11 April 2019.

Posted on 08 April 2019

CAAT are appealing the judgment by the High Court on 10 July 2017 which found that the granting of licences for the export of arms from the UK to Saudi Arabia was lawful, despite global concern over the use of these weapons in the current conflict in Yemen.
Lawyers Leigh Day, representing CAAT, argued that the decision to grant the licences was against UK arms export policy, which clearly states that the government must deny such licences if there is a ‘clear risk’ that the arms ‘might’ be used in ‘a serious violation of International Humanitarian Law’.
CAAT are appealing on a number of open grounds including that that the High Court was wrong in its approach to the open source material and findings of past breaches of international humanitarian law (IHL) by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and that it failed to rule on the meaning of “serious violations” of IHL. The Special Advocates appointed in this case are appealing the closed judgment handed down by the High Court. 

On 25 March 2015, a coalition of states led by KSA launched a military campaign in support of pro-government forces in Yemen. In their legal case CAAT argue that the UK government has granted licences (and refused to suspend existing licences) for the supply of a range of military equipment and technology to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen, including ordnance for air strikes, gun turrets, ammunition, military communications equipment, components for military helicopters and jet aircraft. The humanitarian impact of the conflict had been immense, causing the destruction of critical civilian infrastructure, including hospitals, medical clinics, schools and sewerage treatment facilities by documented coalition air strikes. On a significant number of occasions, KSA airstrikes have resulted in mass civilian casualties.
In their legal case CAAT highlights the two detailed investigative reports by the UN Panel of Experts on Yemen published in January 2016 and January 2017 both of which found that the KSA-led coalition has committed violations of IHL, some of them serious, in its air campaign in Yemen. The same conclusions have been reached by senior UN officials, reputable NGOs and the European Parliament.
Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Rights Watch UK and Oxfam are intervening in the appeal in support of CAAT.
Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade said: “UK-made weapons have played a central role in the four year Saudi-led bombardment of Yemen. The results have been catastrophic, with tens of thousands of people killed and vital infrastructure destroyed. We believe that these arms sales are immoral, and are confident that the Court of Appeal will agree that they are unlawful.”

Rosa Curling of Leigh Day said: “There is strong global concern over the actions of Saudi-led forces in Yemen. The United Nations, the European Parliament, Select Committees and many NGOs have raised concerns about the clear violations of international humanitarian law taking place against the Yemeni people. Despite this, the UK government continues to grant licences to allow arms to be sold to Saudi Arabia. Our client firmly believes that these licences are being issued unlawfully and we look forward to putting forward their arguments in the Court of Appeal.”