Judgment handed down in Campaign Against Arms Trade v Secretary of State for International Trade


The Divisional Court (Popplewell LJ and Henshaw J) has dismissed the challenge by Campaign Against Arms Trade (“CAAT”) to the Secretary of State’s decision to continue granting licences for the export of arms to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The Secretary of State is obliged to cease granting new licences and suspend existing licences where there is “a clear risk that the arms might be used in the commission of a serious violation of International Humanitarian Law (“IHL”)”. The claim focussed on airstrikes conducted by a coalition led by Saudi Arabia in support of the legitimate government of Yemen against the Houthi rebellion. It followed an earlier challenge to the lawfulness of a similar decision by the UK Government in 2015. That claim was dismissed judgment ([2017] EWHC 1754 Admin) by the Divisional Court (Burnett LJ and Haddon-Cave J). An appeal was allowed by the Court of Appeal (Sir Terence Etherton MR, Irwin and Singh LJJ), ([2019] EWCA Civ 1020 [2019] 1 WLR 5765), on one ground, namely that, as part of the process in reaching the decision, the Secretary of State should have attempted to assess the extent to which past incidents  demonstrated an historic pattern of breaches of IHL by Saudi Arabia.

In the judgment handed down on Tuesday, the Divisional Court rejected CAAT’s argument that the Secretary of State had irrationally failed to identify the extent of past breaches of IHL by Saudi Arabia and had irrationally concluded that there was no pattern to past breaches

Jonathan Glasson KC acted for the Secretary of State for International Trade together with Sir James Eadie KC and Jessica Wells. He was instructed by Government Legal Department.

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