UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia are declared unlawful by Court of Appeal

British arms sales to Saudi Arabia then used in Yemen were ruled unlawful today – but the UK can still continue its £4.7billion trade in weapons and aircraft with the Gulf state. 

Campaigners have won a landmark legal challenge at the Court of Appeal in London after convincing judges the UK-made weapons contributed to civilian casualties as jets from the Saudi-led coalition bombed their neighbour. 

Britain has sold £4.7billion of arms to Saudi Arabia since the civil war started March 2015 including planes, drones and missiles.

But three of the UK’s most senior judges have said today there is a ‘clear risk’ their use could breach international law on humanitarian grounds.

The UN has claimed that in the past two years up to 13,600 people were killed in Yemen, including 5,000-plus civilians with 50,000 more dying because of the country’s famine. 

The Court of Appeal ruling published this morning says that ‘the process of decision-making by the government was wrong in law in one significant respect’. 

But the judges say that the arms sales to Saudi Arabia don’t have to stop immediately – but the Government estimate any future risks in light of their conclusions about the past. 

International Trade Secretary Liam Fox will make a statement on the matter to the Commons this afternoon but a spokesman for his department said: ‘This judgement is not about whether the decisions themselves were right or wrong, but whether the process in reaching those decisions was correct.

He added: ‘We disagree with the judgment and will be seeking permission to appeal.’ 

British arms sales to Saudi Arabia used in the Yemen were ruled unlawful today – but the UK can still continue its £4.7billion trade in weapons and aircraft with the Gulf state (a Saudi-led strike pictured in May)

Announcing the court’s decision, Master of the Rolls Sir Terence Etherton said that ‘the process of decision-making by the government was wrong in law in one significant respect’.

Jamal Khashoggi was ‘drugged, then suffocated with a plastic bag’ by the Saudis, says new report 

Khashoggi (pictured) was killed inside Saudi Arabia's Istanbul consulate last year. Riyadh eventually admitted he had been murdered but denied the prince knew of the operation

Khashoggi (pictured) was killed inside Saudi Arabia's Istanbul consulate last year. Riyadh eventually admitted he had been murdered but denied the prince knew of the operation

Khashoggi (pictured) was killed inside Saudi Arabia’s Istanbul consulate last year. Riyadh eventually admitted he had been murdered but denied the prince knew of the operation

Murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi was drugged with a sedative and suffocated with a plastic bag, according to a new UN report. 

An audio recording of Khashoggi’s final moments apparently reveals how his killers discussed cutting his body into pieces, before accosting the dissident writer who died amid ‘sounds of a struggle’ at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. 

In addition, the UN investigation has found there is ‘credible evidence’ that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, is liable for the killing on October 2 last year.  

Agnes Callamard, a UN special rapporteur – who has heard the tape – has called for a probe into whether the ‘threshold of criminal responsibility has been met’.  

In a 99-page report she said experts found it ‘inconceivable’ that a sophisticated 15-man mission to kill Khashoggi could have happened without Prince Mohammed’s knowledge. 

The prince could be held responsible under international law even if there was no ‘smoking gun’ linking him to the crime, she said. 

Calling for sanctions on the prince’s ‘personal assets’, she said other high-level Saudi officials should also face a probe.   

He said the Government ‘made no concluded assessments of whether the Saudi-led coalition had committed violations of international humanitarian law in the past, during the Yemen conflict, and made no attempt to do so’.

Sir Terence added: ‘The decision of the court today does not mean that licences to export arms to Saudi Arabia must immediately be suspended.’

In its written ruling, the Court of Appeal stated: ‘The question whether there was an historic pattern of breaches of international humanitarian law on the part of the (Saudi-led) coalition, and Saudi Arabia in particular, was a question which required to be faced.

‘Even if it could not be answered with reasonable confidence in respect of every incident of concern … it is clear to us that it could properly be answered in respect of many such incidents, including most, if not all, of those which have featured prominently in argument. At least the attempt had to be made.’

International Trade Secretary Liam Fox will make a statement to the Commons this afternoon. 

Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade said: ‘We welcome this verdict but it should never have taken a court case brought by campaigners to force the Government to follow its own rules.

‘The Saudi Arabian regime is one of the most brutal and repressive in the world, yet, for decades, it has been the largest buyer of UK-made arms.

‘No matter what atrocities it has inflicted, the Saudi regime has been able to count on the uncritical political and military support of the UK.

‘The bombing has created the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. UK arms companies have profited every step of the way. The arms sales must stop immediately.’

Since early 2015, Saudi Arabia has led a coalition providing military assistance in Yemen to President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, who is facing mainly Houthi forces loyal to the former president in a country in which terrorist organisations are also operating. 

In its written ruling, the Court of Appeal stated: ‘The question whether there was an historic pattern of breaches of international humanitarian law on the part of the (Saudi-led) coalition, and Saudi Arabia in particular, was a question which required to be faced.

‘Even if it could not be answered with reasonable confidence in respect of every incident of concern … it is clear to us that it could properly be answered in respect of many such incidents, including most, if not all, of those which have featured prominently in argument. At least the attempt had to be made.’    

The UN has claimed that in the past two years up to 13,600 people were killed in Yemen, including 5,000-plus civilians with 50,000 more dying because of the country's famine (pictured)

The UN has claimed that in the past two years up to 13,600 people were killed in Yemen, including 5,000-plus civilians with 50,000 more dying because of the country's famine (pictured)

The UN has claimed that in the past two years up to 13,600 people were killed in Yemen, including 5,000-plus civilians with 50,000 more dying because of the country’s famine (pictured)

Government lawyers argued that the secretary of state and his advisers took into account every allegation which came to their attention, and said the High Court’s decision should be upheld.

Sir James Eadie QC said the secretary of state was ‘entitled’ to form his own view as to the reliability of the reports and factor it into his decision, along with all the other evidence available to him.

A number of human rights campaign groups intervened in the appeal, which was heard over three days and part-closed to the public. 

Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) argued that the decision to continue to license military equipment for export to the Gulf state, which is leading a coalition of forces in the Yemeni conflict, was unlawful. 

Caat says more than 10,000 people have been killed in Yemen and there is overwhelming evidence that UK arms sent to the Saudis have helped create a humanitarian catastrophe, leaving 80% of the population in need of aid.

The UK has continued to allow sales and Caat says it has licensed more than £4.7 billion of arms – including aircraft, drones and missiles – to Saudi Arabia since the bombing began in March 2015.

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