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Protesting Against the Arms Fair

Reports have suggested that upwards of 100 people have been arrested in last week’s protests at the DSEi arms fair.

Most would appear to have been charged with minor offences, such as obstructing the highway. Many were charged without interview and bailed to court – depriving them of any opportunity to put their account or indeed to have proper legal consultations.

The large number of arrests reflects the highly controversial nature of the event – to the extent that Mayor Sadiq Khan indicated that the event is not welcome in London.

London should not be seen as the arms deal capital of the world. However, this arms fair, which happens every two years is said to be largest in Western Europe. As indicated in the press release issued by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT), the guest list for the arms fair includes a roll call of despots, dictatorships and human rights abusers. 56 Countries have been invited, including a range of countries that have appalling human rights records.

It really defies belief that in the last 10 years, almost 60% of UK arms sales have gone to the Middle East.

I have been instructed by protestors in the last 3 arms fairs – with no client that contested their case getting convicted. In the 2013 case, the CPS abandoned the prosecution after we commissioned a report from Amnesty International detailing that illegal weapons had been on display at a number of arms fairs in the past. We also commissioned a weapons expert to examine photographs of particular weapons that were being promoted, who confirmed that such promotion fell foul of UK regulations. We even attempted to privately prosecute the arms companies involved, managing to get a summons issued against them.

In 2015, all the protestors were acquitted after the court heard further evidence about unlawful weapons being promoted. The prosecution appealed – and succeeded in the High Court, in restricting the use of “justification defences” but agreed that the protestors should not be retried

In 2017, with awareness heightened, the number of arrests have multiplied.

Of course, it is disgraceful if cluster bombs or torture equipment are on show. The compliance checks that DSEi or Government Agencies run appear to be unwilling or unable to find the weapons that breach UK regulations. It is notable that the breaches documented in the Amnesty Report referred to, were all discovered by NGOs or journalists – not state authorities.

There is though, a wider point .What planet can we be living on, when we launch Middle East peace processes but then sell weapons to everyone in the region. It is the arms trade itself that needs to be tackled not just the worst excesses of it.

Arms dealing should be obsolete. It should go the same way as other industries built on human suffering, like slavery or child labour. That is what those protesting last week were seeking. That is worth holding a placard for – isn’t it?

Raj Chada is a Partner in the Crime Department and Head of HJA’s Protest/Public Order Unit. He has represented a number of protestors from DSEi arms fairs. If you require assistance, please contact him on or 0330 822 3451