High Court rules UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia are lawful

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Neil Connery

After seeing secret evidence, the High Court has rejected claims that the Government is acting unlawfully by failing to suspend the sale of UK arms to Saudi Arabia.

More than £3.3 billion worth of arms has been sold to the Gulf state since it began bombing neighbouring Yemen in March 2015.

The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), which brought the case against the government, said at least 10,000 people have been killed as a Saudi Arabia-led coalition intervenes in the Yemeni civil war.

The CAAT claimed the coalition was guilty of "repeated and serious breaches" of international humanitarian law, and created a humanitarian catastrophe - destroying vital infrastructure and leaving 80% of the population in need of aid.

But Lord Justice Burnett and Mr Justice Haddon-Cave, sitting in London, dismissed the campaigners' application for judicial review, saying the decision to carry on the arms trade was not irrational or unlawful.

A funeral hall in Sanaa, Yemen, which was destroyed in a deadly Saudi-led aistrike in October 2016. Credit: AP

The judges agreed that secret evidence, referred to as "closed material", seen by them but not made public for national security reasons, "provides valuable additional support for the conclusion that the decisions taken by the Secretary of State not to suspend or cancel arms sales to Saudi Arabia were rational".

Reacting to the verdict, Andrew Smith of CAAT, told ITV News: "We are already pursuing an appeal against this verdict. We disagree with it in the strongest terms."

He continued: "If this verdict is upheld then it will be regarded by the UK government as a green light to continue arming and supporting some of the brutal regimes in the world, including Saudi Arabia which has one of the worst human rights records in the world and has waged a terrible bombardment on the people of Yemen.

"To Saudi Arabia, this verdict will be regarded as a green light to continue doing exactly what they were doing in a bombing which has already killed over 10,000 people and has seen the destruction of schools, hospitals and vital life-saving infrastructure.

Caroline Anning from Save the Children also condemned the High Court's ruling, saying: "We're deeply disappointed obviously by today's decision."

She added: "Every day our team is working with children who've seen their families blown up in front of them, including a boy just the other week who was blown out of his bedroom window down two floors. We're now helping him with hearing aids because he's gone deaf.

"This is the reality of life in Yemen for children. As the UK, we shouldn't be complicit in selling arms to one of the parties in that conflict."

British cluster bombs pictured stored in a disused building in Yemen. Credit: ITV News

Prior to the hearing, the government insisted there was no "clear risk" that UK licensed items might be used to commit a serious violation of humanitarian law.

CAAT was also relying evidence including a large number of authoritative reports and findings from bodies including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the EU Parliament and an expert panel appointed under a UN Security Council resolution.