UK grant of export licences for the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia ruled unlawful due to failure to assess Kingdom’s past record on international humanitarian law


The Court of Appeal allowed the appeal of the Campaign Against Arms Trade and concluded that the process of granting licences was unlawful in one respect.

The Court did not accept that the UK military and other analysts and advisers wrongly discounted the evidence coming from the NGOs and the UN Panel of experts, rather finding that the evidence was considered, in each case where a concern was raised. It also found that those advising the Secretary of State were all along keenly alive to the question of possible violation of international humanitarian law and its impact on continued supply of weapons.

However, the Court accepted that the question whether there was an historic pattern of breaches of international humanitarian law on the part of the Coalition, and Saudi Arabia in particular, was a question which required to be faced. The Court considered that, without making such assessments, the Secretary of State could not reach a rational conclusion as to the effect of the training, support and other inputs by the UK, or the effect of any high level assurances by the Saudi authorities. Therefore the Court concluded that the Secretary of State’s actions were irrational and, so it was unlawful for him to proceed as he did.

The Court of Appeal concluded that the matter should be remitted to the Secretary of State to reconsider in accordance with the correct legal approach.

Jonathan Glasson QC was involved in this case.

Read the judgment here.

Court’s press summary is here.

BBC report is here.