Reference to the Court of Justice of the EU in relation to Western Sahara

20 Oct 2015 | by Claire Alderman

In a landmark decision, the High Court ruled that a legal claim being brought by the Western Sahara Campaign UK (WSCUK) against DEFRA and HMRC regarding trade agreements with Morocco should be heard in the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU).

The High Court has decided that it is necessary to refer a series of questions to the CJEU regarding the legality, under EU Law, of the EU – Morocco Association Agreement and the EU Morocco Fisheries Partnership Agreement. These questions relate, inter alia, to the compatibility of these agreements with public international law, to the extent that international law forms part of EU Law.

In giving judgment in the High Court, Mr. Justice Blake concluded that “there is an arguable case of a manifest error by the Commission in understanding and applying international law relevant to these agreements.”

Western Sahara, in north-west Africa, is the subject of a decades-long dispute between Morocco and the Saharawi people. In October 1975 the International Court of Justice rejected territorial claims over Western Sahara by Morocco and recognised the Saharawis’ right to self-determination. Morocco exercises effective control over most of the territory of Western Sahara. WSCUK claims that such control fails to respect the right of the people of Western Sahara to self determination under international law and is incompatible with certain other rules of international law.

Conor McCarthy, led by Kieron Beal QC, is acting for the Claimant in this matter. They were instructed by Leigh Day.

Please click here for the full judgment.