William Eichler 23 June 2017

Attempt to restrict council pension boycotts is ruled 'unlawful'

A court ruled yesterday the Government’s attempt to prevent councils boycotting Israel through their pension schemes is ‘unlawful’.

Pro-Palestine campaigners hailed the decision as ‘a victory for Palestine, for local democracy, and for the rule of law.’

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) issued guidance on local government pension schemes (LGPS) investments last September which stated: ‘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.’

The aim was to prevent local authorities from joining the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, siege of Gaza and human rights abuses against the Arab population of Israel.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), and a number of other groups such as War on Want, Campaign Against Arms Trade and the Quakers, argued Whitehall’s guidance was unlawful, a position that was upheld yesterday by the administrative court judge Sir Ross Cranston who ruled the Government had acted for an improper purpose.

Jamie Potter, a partner in the Public Law and Human Rights team at Bindmans LLP, the law firm representing PSC, 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.’

‘Today is a victory for Palestine, for local democracy, and for the rule of law,’ said Hugh Lanning, chair of the PSC.

‘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.’

A Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) spokesman said: 'It is an important principle that foreign policy matters are for the UK Government to decide. The government wishes to appeal the court’s decision.'

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