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Banning councils from boycotting Israel is unlawful, Supreme Court tells UK Government

22nd May 2020
Banning councils from boycotting  Israel is unlawful,  Supreme Court tells  UK Government

(Photo credit: Alex Chis/Flickr)

Harun Nasrullah

The UK Government’s current ban on local councils’ ethical pensions divestment is unlawful, the Supreme Court ruled on April 29.

The landmark ruling in favour of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) is a major setback against the Government’s ongoing efforts to subdue the pro-Palestine Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

The PSC successfully argued the regulation which restricts Local Government Pension Schemes (LGPS) from divesting from companies complicit in Israeli human rights violations is a serious infringement to the right of pension holders to have a say in the investment and divestment of their funds.

In 2016 the Department for Communities and Local Government issued guidance which prohibited LGPS from proceeding with divestment from foreign states and the UK’s defence industry.

This included a ban on companies trading in the illegally Occupied Palestinian Territories. Human and civil rights activists viewed the guidance as an attempt to deactivate the BDS movement.

In 2017 the PSC launched a judicial review against the Government guidelines resulting in an Administrative Court ruling which concluded that prohibiting LGPS funds from this kind of disinvestment was unlawful.
The Court of Appeal overturned that decision in May 2018.

However, in November 2018, the PSC was granted permission to appeal at the Supreme Court.

PSC’s lawyer Jamie Potter said, “LGPS members now have the freedom to pursue their principles in respect of the role of the arms trade and foreign countries in violations of human rights around the world when determining how their pension monies are invested.”

The ruling comes just months after the Government announced its widely condemned intention to introduce legislation to prohibit public bodies from imposing their own BDS campaigns against foreign countries.

Professor Kamel Hawwash, Chair of the PSC, said the historic victory represents a win for Palestinian rights and “the fundamental principles of democracy, freedom of expression and justice.”

“The Supreme Court ruling sends a decisive message to the UK Government that it should not be dictating how Local Government Pension Schemes choose to invest their funds, including choosing not to invest in companies complicit in Israel’s human rights abuses.”

Hawwash stressed that Israel’s continuing to ramp up its oppression of the Palestinian people and its illegal acts, including annexing large swathes of the illegally occupied West Bank. PSC argues the government’s attempts to weaken the BDS campaign is an attack on a protest-body upholding international law and human rights.

“The PSC will continue to resist any attempts to suppress BDS activism, and I extend deep thanks to all our supporters who have stood by us every step of the way in this legal case. We have shown how powerful this movement is,” he said.

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