Judgement due in legal battle over UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia

By agency reporter
June 19, 2019

The Court of Appeal is due to give its judgment at 10am on Thursday 20 June 2019 in a legal battle by campaigners to challenge the UK Government’s decision to grant licences for the export of arms to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen.

Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) appealed against a judgment by the High Court on 10 July 2017 which ruled that the granting of licences for the export of arms from the UK to Saudi Arabia is lawful, despite global concern that these weapons could be used to commit serious violations of international humanitarian law.

Lawyers Leigh Day, representing CAAT, argued that the decision to grant the licences is unlawful as it is in breach of the UK arms export policy, which clearly states the government must deny such licences if there is a "clear risk" arms "might’ be used in "a serious violation of International Humanitarian Law".

The judicial review brought against the Secretary of State for International Trade, Liam Fox, over his decision to allow these export licences to be granted, follows serious allegations that Saudi forces might have used UK arms in serious violations of international humanitarian law during their ongoing bombardment of Yemen. A range of international organisations including a UN Expert Panel, the European Parliament and many humanitarian NGOs, have condemned the ongoing Saudi air strikes against Yemen as unlawful.

UK government statistics show that since the bombardment began in 2015, the UK has licensed £4.7 billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia, including:

  • £2.8 billion worth of ML10 licences (Aircraft, helicopters, drones)
  • £1.9 billion worth of ML4 licences (Grenades, bombs, missiles, countermeasures)

In reality the figures could be a great deal higher, with most bombs and missiles being licensed via the opaque and secretive Open Licence system.

The verdict follows a three-day hearing in the Court of Appeal, which took place between 9 and 11 April 2019. Half of the hearings were conducted in ‘closed sessions.’ Neither the claimant nor their lawyers were able to be present for these sessions.

Ahead of the case, 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 we hope that the Court of Appeal will agree that they are unlawful.”

* Campaign Against Arms Trade https://www.caat.org.uk/

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