UK Government Defeated in Court by BDS Activists for Palestinian Human Rights
The court ruled that it is unlawful for the government to restrict local councils from exercising their conscience and divesting their pensions from Israeli companies complicit in violating Palestinian human rights.
- The UK government has acted unlawfully by attempting to restrict local councils from pursuing boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against the state of Israel through their pension schemes.
- Palestine campaigners hailed the triumph the ruling represented for the BDS movement, stating “Today is a victory for Palestine, for local democracy, and for the rule of law.”
- Administrative Court judge Sir Ross Cranston granted the judicial review on 22 June, determining that the Government had acted for an improper purpose.
The Palestine Solidarity Campaign has won a key victory for the peaceful Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against the UK government today. War on Want, Campaign Against Arms Trade and the Quakers supported the legal challenge with witness statements. PSC was represented in the proceedings by Bindmans LLP, Nigel Giffin QC and Zac Sammour.
The embattled minority Tory government suffered a new blow as parts of its Guidance governing investment by Local Government Pension Schemes (LGPS) were struck down as unlawful.
The Guidance was announced by the Department for Communities and Local Government in September 2016 specifically to curtail divestment campaigns against Israeli and international firms implicated in Israel’s violations of international law, as well as to protect the UK defence industry. This occurred despite a public consultation indicating that 98% of respondents thought this was the wrong thing to do. Pension holders would have been forced into investing in companies that are complicit in human rights abuses contrary to their conscience and beliefs.
The Administrative Court today held that the Government had acted for an improper purpose by seeking to use pension law to pursue its own foreign and defence policy. Accordingly the relevant parts of the Guidance were held to be unlawful and no longer restrict LGPS in their pension decisions.
In 2005 Palestinian civil society called for a campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions measures until Israel adheres to its obligations under international law. It is modelled on the successful South African anti-apartheid boycott of the 1980s. Various local councils responded to the Palestinian call by passing motions to boycott goods from illegal Israeli settlements. Campaigners have been calling for councils to consider divesting from companies complicit in human rights violations in the occupied West Bank, such as Hewlett Packard (HP).
Hugh Lanning, Chair of the PSC said:
Today is a victory for Palestine, for local democracy, and for the rule of law. Absolutely everyone has a right to peacefully protest Israel’s violation of Palestinian human rights. This ruling upholds the right of local councils and their pension funds to invest ethically without political interference from the government of the day.
Ben Jamal, Director of PSC said:
Our recent YouGov polling shows 43% of the public think BDS is reasonable. We couldn’t be happier that this right has been upheld by the Court in the month the illegal occupation of Palestine turns fifty years old. PSC will take forward its campaign for justice for the Palestinian people with renewed vigour.
Jamie Potter, Partner in the Public Law and Human Rights team at Bindmans LLP said:
This outcome is a reminder to the Government that it cannot improperly interfere in the exercise of freedom of conscience and protest in order to pursue its own agenda.
Notes for Editors:
- The Department for Communities and Local Government issued guidance on LGPS in September 2016 declaring ‘divestment and sanctions against foreign nations and UK defence industries are inappropriate, other than where formal legal sanctions, embargoes and restrictions have been put in place by the Government.’
- This guidance came in despite a public consultation on the issue in which 98% of respondents vehemently disagreed with the plans.
- The Palestine Solidarity Campaign applied for judicial review of the new government measures for LGPS in December 2016.
- New YouGov polling on British public attitudes to Palestine shows that 43% of the public consider the BDS movement to be reasonable.