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Court of Appeal strikes out Saudi Government case in Pegasus spyware claim brought by UK based dissident Ghanem Al-Masarir

Human rights activist Ghanem Al-Masarir’s four-year legal claim against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) over the use of spyware can finally be examined by the courts after the Court of Appeal struck out the KSA’s appeal.

Posted on 29 January 2024

The KSA failed to pay into court the sum of £210,000, as a result of which the Court of Appeal struck out the Saudi Government's defence to the claims.

Ghanem’s lawyers at law firm Leigh Day say the development means the dissident’s substantive claim against the KSA can now move forward, with the damage and loss suffered by the claimant due to be assessed.

In 2022 the High Court ruled that the KSA could not claim state immunity to dismiss Ghanem’s claim that the Saudi regime infected his mobile phone with the spyware known as Pegasus, acquired from the Israeli tech company, NSO Group, which allowed them to, amongst other things, access his microphone and camera to hear and record what he was doing.

Ghanem’s claim was for the psychological damage resulting from the misuse of private information and harassment in relation to the spyware. He also claimed a physical attack he suffered on 31 August 2018 outside Harrods was directed by the Saudi regime.

After the 2022 High Court ruling, the KSA was ordered to pay £150,000, on account of Ghanem’s legal costs, to Leigh Day prior to the start of the substantive claim.

The KSA made an application to appeal the High Court’s judgment and the costs order. The Court of Appeal granted the KSA with permission to appeal the judgment in May 2023, but it refused to vary the costs order made against it.

Following the Saudi regime’s failure to comply with the court’s orders, Leigh Day made an application to the Court of Appeal, requesting that the court order the KSA to provide security for Ghanem’s costs. The Court of Appeal ordered that unless the KSA made payment of £210,000 as security for Ghanem’s costs by 4pm on Friday 24 November 2023, its appeal would be struck out without further order.

On 27 November 2023, Leigh Day was informed by the KSA’s legal representatives that the KSA had not made the security for costs payment as it maintains its assertion of sovereign immunity in relation to Ghanem’s claim. Therefore, the KSA’s appeal of the 2022 judgment was struck out.

On 18 December 2023, the Court of Appeal ordered the KSA to confirm whether it wishes to defend all or part of Ghanem’s claim by 2 January 2024 and file its defence by 15 January 2024. Instead of abiding by the court’s orders, the KSA chose to dismiss its legal team from representing it in these proceedings.

Regardless of the KSA’s engagement in these proceedings, Ghanem is committed to pursuing his claim against the KSA for the alleged acts committed against him. He will soon be applying to the court for it to make a judgment in his favour against the KSA.

Ghanem Al Masarir said:

“Against the backdrop of adversity and difficult challenges against a powerful state, this legal triumph becomes a symbol of resistance. We have shown that the pursuit of justice, although lengthy, can withstand even the mightiest challenges. My commitment to truth and accountability remains unyielding, a flame that will continue to burn until justice prevails”.

Ida Aduwa, senior associate solicitor at Leigh Day who represents Ghanem, added:

"The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has acted in defiance of the orders made by the court, as a result Ghanem now has to spend additional time and incur further costs in his pursuit of his justifiable claim. It is unfortunately unfair that a Defendant State can behave in this way and choose when to engage in the court process."

Ida Pottin Aduwa
Corporate accountability International International human rights Spyware

Ida Aduwa

Ida is a senior associate in the international department

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High Court gives green light to a Pegasus spyware case being brought in London against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia by a UK based dissident

The High Court has today ruled the KSA does not have immunity under the State Immunity Act 1978 in relation to a case brought against it by satirist and human rights activist Ghanem Al-Masarir for its alleged use of spyware to infiltrate his mobile phones.

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