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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.

Last updated: 28/07/2020

Saudi Arabia – legal challenge

In March 2015, a Saudi-led coalition commenced a military campaign in Yemen, targeting Houthis and allied rebel groups backing the former president of Yemen, the late Ali Abdullah Saleh. This military campaign has involved substantial numbers of air strikes against a wide variety of targets. There have also been numerous reports of breaches of International Humanitarian Law (IHL).

CAAT is challenging the UK government’s decision to continue to license the export of military equipment to Saudi Arabia.

The challenge

The legal action is a Judicial Review, a type of court proceeding in which the judges review the lawfulness of a decision or action made by a public body. In this case the judges are examining the lawfulness of decisions made by the Secretary of State responsible for export controls. When the legal action began, this was the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills. However, after a change to government departments and their responsibilities in July 2016, it is now the Secretary of State for International Trade.

Export licence applications are considered against the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria. While the decision is ultimately made by the International Trade Secretary, both the Foreign and Defence Secretaries provide advice.

CAAT’s case focuses on Criterion 2c, which says that licences should not be granted if there is a clear risk that the equipment to be exported might be used in a serious violation of IHL.

High Court hearing

The High Court hearing took place in open session from 7 February to lunchtime 8 February 2017. A hearing closed to CAAT, the press and the public, was held during the afternoon of 8 February and all day on 10 February. CAAT’s interests were represented in the closed sessions by Special Advocates. The Judges were Lord Justice Burnett and Mr Justice Haddon-Cave.

Appeal

Judgment was handed down on 10 July 2017. The High Court rejected CAAT’s claim and CAAT pursued an appeal. There was a hearing on 12 April 2018 when Court of Appeal judges Lord Justice Irwin and Lord Justice Flaux heard arguments for and against granting CAAT permission to have a full appeal hearing. On 4 May 2018 permission was granted to appeal both the open and closed judgments.

The Appeal hearing took place between Tuesday 9 and Thursday 11 April 2019 before the Master of the Rolls, Lord Justice Irwin and Lord Justice Singh.

Appeal Court judgment

Judgment, in CAAT’s favour, was handed down on 20 June 2019. The Government was told to retake on a lawful basis its export licensing decisions on extant licences and not to issue any new ones, where the equipment might be used by Saudi Arabia in Yemen. On 27 June 2019 the Government asked the Court of Appeal for permission to appeal to the Supreme Court and for a stay. Permission to appeal was granted on 9 July 2019.

On 7 July 2020 the Government announced it had completed the review ordered by the Court of Appeal, had determined that any violations of international law were “isolated incidents” and that it would resume granting new licences for arms sales to the Saudi-led coalition for use in Yemen. CAAT is considering this new decision with its lawyers, and will be exploring all options available to challenge it.

Any Supreme Court hearing will be from Monday 23 to Wednesday 25 November 2020.

Legal Documents

Campaigners with a Stop Arming Saudi banner outside Picture of the Royal Courts of Justice, including a man wearing a Stop Arming Saudi t-shirt printed white on black, and a person holding a green sign with the same message

At the hearing

Documents that became public at the hearing on 7 and 8 February 2017.

Legal teams

In this case CAAT was represented in the High Court and Court of Appeal by barristers Martin Chamberlain QC and Conor McCarthy from Monckton Chambers. After Martin Chamberlain was appointed to the judiciary, Ben Jaffey QC of Blackstone Chambers replaced him as CAAT’s lead advocate for the Supreme Court hearing. CAAT’s solicitor is Rosa Curling of Leigh Day & Co assisted by Erin Alcock. The Special Advocates, who represent CAAT’s interests in the closed hearings, are Angus McCullough QC of 1 Crown Office Row and Rachel Toney of Stone Chambers.

The Secretary of State for International Trade is represented by Sir James Eadie QC from Blackstone Chambers, Jonathan Glasson QC from Matrix Chambers and Jessica Wells of Essex Court Chambers.

Amnesty International, Human Rights, Watch and Rights Watch (UK) have intervened jointly in the case, that is the court gave them permission to use their specialist knowledge to make additional arguments. Oxfam has also intervened separately.

Legal articles about the case

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