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UK arms exports challenge revived, expedited and now set for full hearing in October

Court documents reveal new UK decision, the failure to factor World Central Kitchen killings and Israel's consistent failure to give UK information on specific incidents in Gaza.

On 23 April 2024 an arms trade challenge brought by Global Legal Action Network (GLAN) and Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq was granted a full judicial review hearing challenging the UK government's failure to halt weapons exports to Israel that risk being used in violations of international humanitarian law in Gaza. At an oral hearing in the High Court the case was revived after being initially dismissed on 19 February 2024.


In a last-minute strategic shift the government refrained from asking the Court to find the claim is inarguable. It further argued that the court hasn’t seen all the relevant documents and that they can only be shared in closed, secret proceedings due to national security. This indicates the government’s intent to rely heavily on Israeli assurances in circumstances where neither Al-Haq nor their lawyers will be able to see the evidence presented in those proceedings. Despite the dire humanitarian situation on the ground in Gaza where the horrifying death toll only continues to rise as a result of Israel’s aerial bombardment, ground forces and restrictions on aid. A full hearing is now set for October.


New documents revealed in Court detailed how Israel has interacted with the UK government and how the World Central Kitchen strikes will be factored into the next decision on weapons exports. Hear are four things we learned:


  1. There have been 5 legal assessments of the situation in Gaza, known as IHL Compliance Evidence Bases since December 18th, the date when the UK decided not to revoke extant licences to Israel and to continue to grant new licences. Court documents now reveal that a new decision was made on April 8th with the same result.

  2. The Foreign Secretary delayed considering IHL assessment in February to allow Israel more time to respond. This delay was over a month long and at no point has Israel ever provided the UK government with any briefing on individual incidents.

  3. World Central Kitchen and the latest decision: On 28 March 2024 the Foreign Secretary received a submission on IHL compliance assessments of Israel covering the period from 18 December to 29 February 2024, this period includes the provisional orders of the ICJ on January 26th and a joint statement of UN exports on 23 February 2024 asserting, without qualification, that “any transfer of weapons or ammunition to Israel that would be used in Gaza is likely to violate international humanitarian law (IHL) and must cease immediately”. In light of that advice, the Foreign Secretary concluded on 3 April that it was not necessary to recommend the suspension of any extant licences. Two days prior, on 1 April 2024, the World Central Kitchen (WCK) air strikes claimed the lives of British aid workers occurred. The Foreign Secretary’s recommendation was shared with the Trade Secretary on 3 April 2024 two days after the strikes on WCK. On 8 April, the Trade Secretary decided not to suspend any extant licences and to continue to grant new licences. According to the court document the Foreign Secretary will shortly receive advice on recent events, including the strike on the World Central Kitchen convoy. Since March “out of cycle assessments will be completed where circumstances require” but none seem to have been triggered by the WCK strikes or other attacks on aid convoys.

  4. The IHL assessment of Israel are “lengthy and detailed (around 25 to 30 pages) and includes: an overview of the conflict; analysis of the humanitarian context; a review of Israeli Government statements relevant to IHL; information regarding Israeli military operations, including identification of alleged incidents of particular concern; and analysis of statements by international bodies, States and NGOs relevant to Israel’s compliance with IHL.” Given the widespread consensus that Israel’s conduct violates international law from all major UN and human rights organisations this makes it hard to conceive that the advice given to the Foreign Secretary pointed in any other direction.


Charlotte Andrews-Briscoe, Lawyer at GLAN:

“The world has watched as 34,000 people have been killed, and more are being killed every day. Over the weekend, a single strike in Rafah killed 17 children. The case for urgency has never been clearer. Yet, for the duration of this litigation, the Government has used every delaying tactic at its disposal. Now, the Government has asked for a hearing in December. It is shameful. Has the Government no regard for the immense loss of human life thus far, some of whom will have been killed with British weapons? How many more mothers, fathers, daughters and sons will have died by December?”


Dearbhla Minogue, Senior Lawyer at GLAN:

"The UK government has stretched legal reasoning to the point of absurdity in order to arm a country that is committing grave violations of international humanitarian law. From the start, it has been clear that the government has failed to treat this situation with a fraction of the urgency it demands. The Government should listen to the international legal consensus and halt weapons sales now."



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