Activists outside High Court with Stop Arming Saudi Arabia banner

CAAT’s legal challenge

The UK government refuses to stop arms sales to Saudi Arabia, despite overwhelming evidence of violations of International Humanitarian Law in Yemen. CAAT is challenging this in the Courts.

Last updated 13 July 2023

The UK government continues to license the export of weapons for use in the war in Yemen. CAAT is challenging this in the courts.

UK arms sales back on trial

On 26 October 2020 CAAT filed a new Judicial Review application into the legality of the UK government’s decision to renew arms sales to the Saudi-led coalition that is bombing Yemen.

On 20 April 2021 CAAT was granted permission for its legal challenge to proceed to the High Court. The hearing will take place at the High Court of Justice from 31 January to 2nd February 2023.


The government has refused to stop arms sales to Saudi Arabia, despite overwhelming evidence of violations of International Humanitarian Law in Yemen.

Since 2015, bombing by the Saudi-led coalition has targeted schools and hospitals, food supplies, weddings and funerals, with UK weapons playing a central role.

UK rules prohibit exports in such circumstances, but the government refuses to stop the sales. Instead, the government has done everything it can to maintain its relationship with Saudi Arabia, the UK’s biggest arms customer.

Given the evidence we have heard and the volume of UK-manufactured arms exported to Saudi Arabia, it seems inevitable that any violations of international humanitarian and human rights law by the coalition have involved arms supplied from the UK. This constitutes a breach of our own export licensing criteria.

Parliament’s International Development and Business, Innovation and Skills Committees, Sept 2016

Stopping arms sales

CAAT’s first Judicial Review was formally launched in March 2016. More that three years later, on 20 June 2019, the Court of Appeal ruled in CAAT’s favour. It found that it was ‘irrational and therefore unlawful’  for the Secretary of State for International Trade to have granted licences for the export of arms to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen without making any assessment as to whether violations of International Humanitarian Law had taken place.

As a result of this landmark decision, the government was ordered to retake all decisions to export arms to Saudi Arabia in accordance with the law and to stop issuing new arms export licences to Saudi Arabia. The government applied the same restrictions to licences to its coalition partners, UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait and Egypt, for use in Yemen.

As a result of our action, hundreds of millions of pounds of arms sales to the Saudi-led coalition were put on hold.

Government resumption

However the government refused to accept the Court of Appeal judgment and was granted permission to appeal to the Supreme Court. This case was due to be heard in November 2020.

Then, on 7 July 2020, the Secretary of State for International Trade Liz Truss issued a written statement to Parliament. She said the government had completed the review ordered by the Court of Appeal, and had determined that any violations of international law were “isolated incidents”.

The government would therefore resume issuing new licences for arms sales for use in Yemen: “clearing the backlog of licence applications for Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners.”

Second judicial review

We considered this to be an appalling decision, whose conclusion is not compatible with the evidence – and it is astonishing that the government could conclude that such licences could comply with the UK’s export licensing criteria. In other ways this is no surprise – the government has done all it can to maintain business as usual, whatever atrocities the Saudi-led coalition has committed.

Accordingly, on 26 October 2020 CAAT filed a new Judicial Review application into the legality of the UK government’s decision to renew arms sales to the Saudi-led coalition that is bombing Yemen.

CAAT challenged the government’s new decision on several grounds, including the claim that there were only a “small number” of “possible violations” of International Humanitarian Law committed by Saudi Arabia, the claim that there was no “pattern” to these violations, and the conclusion that, as a result, there was no “clear risk” that UK arms might be used to commit further violations.

On 20 April 2021 CAAT was granted permission for its challenge to proceed to the High Court.  After much delay, the hearing for this second judicial review finally took place from 31 January – 2 February 2023. As before, this included both open and closed sessions, with CAAT represented in the latter by security-cleared Special Advocates, as neither CAAT nor our lawyers in the open session were allowed to attend the closed hearing, or see the evidence presented there. The case was heard at the High Court of Justice by Lord Justice Popplewell and Mr. Justice Henshaw.

Unfortunately, on 6 June, the judges handed down their judgment, rejecting CAAT’s case on all grounds.

Stop the sales

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Legal background, and the ICC

Picture of the Royal Courts of Justice

Legal challenge details

Learn more about CAAT legal challenge to the UK government licensing military equipment exports to Saudi Arabia and read the legal documents.

A two-story concrete building, collapsed and surrounded by rubble

International Criminal Court

A coalition of European and Yemeni groups, including CAAT, has submitted a dossier to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, asking them to investigate European government and arms company officials for potentially aiding and abetting war crimes in Yemen.

The UK’s rules and the war in Yemen

Thousands of civilians have been killed in Yemen by air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition. These airstrikes have frequently hit civilian targets, including weddings and funerals, market places and warehouses, schools and hospitals.

The UK has licensed billions of pounds of arms sales to the Coalition: at least £6.8 billion in published figures since the war began, but CAAT estimates that the UK has actually supplied more than £15 billion of arms sales over this time. UK weapons – including warplanes, bombs and missiles – are being used by the Saudi-led forces in Yemen, and have been linked to individual attacks violating International Humanitarian Law.

UK rules expressly prohibit the licensing of arms exports where there is a clear risk that the items might be used for internal repression or in the commission of a serious violation of international humanitarian law, or where they would provoke or prolong armed conflicts. By any common-sense interpretation of the rules, sales to Saudi Arabia should never have been allowed.

If, as the government claims, these rules don’t prevent arms sales to Saudi Arabia – one of the world’s most repressive regimes, when it  is using UK-made planes and missiles in bombing that has killed thousands of people, destroyed schools and hospitals, targeted funerals, weddings and food warehouses – then what would they prevent?

We shouldn’t have to do this

It shouldn’t take years of schools, hospitals, weddings, and funerals being bombed. It should not take tens of thousands of deaths and the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. We must question a system – and the priorities of government – that have allowed the continuing provision of arms in these circumstances.

Throughout the bombing the government has continued to insist that the UK has one of the most rigorous arms export control regimes in the world. But, however good the rules are on paper, they are of little value if they are not applied in practice.

Our challenge exposes the fundamental flaws in the current system: the government’s focus is on securing further business not controlling arms sales. And it doesn’t use the rules to limit arms sales: instead it uses them to legitimise them while carrying on with business as usual.

We must challenge this and call for fundamental change. It should not take legal action to make the government follow its own rules.

Read more

Arms Dealers Dine as Yemen Starves #StopArming Saudi CAAT banner held by four activists outside a hotel under a mirrored canopy. The mirror reflects policeman in fluorescent jackets.

A humanitarian crisis, created by war

The war in Yemen has created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. This is an entirely man-made catastrophe. It is a direct result of the devastating war in the country, and the strategies and tactics adopted by the parties to the conflict, especially the Saudi-led Coalition.

A destroyed house in Sanaa with crowd of rescuers in front

Photo by Ibrahem Qasim, CC BY-SA

The war on Yemen’s civilians

The war in Yemen has killed an estimated 377,000 people through direct and indirect causes. Over 150,000, including tens of thousands of civilians, have been killed in fighting, including the Saudi-led bombing campaign, while many more have died of hunger and disease in the humanitarian crisis caused by the war.

Royal Saudi fighter jet, picture of pilot under canopy. Decals on jet say God Bless You and Royal Sau in Arabic and English

Photo by Clément Alloing, CC BY-NC-ND

UK arms to Saudi Arabia

The UK has continued to support air strikes by Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners in Yemen, in spite of overwhelming evidence of repeated breaches of international humanitarian law by the coalition.

CAAT would not exist without its supporters. Each new supporter helps us strengthen our call for an end to the international arms trade.

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