The UK Government has acted unlawfully by restricting “ethical” boycotts of Israel, the High Court ruled earlier this week.
After accepting a judicial review, the judge said the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), Sajid Javid, acted “unlawfully” in issuing guidance to restrict local councils across the country from boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel via their pension schemes.
The judge stated that the department’s guidance fell outside the remit of Mr Javid’s statutory authority because it was issued for non-pensions reasons.
The case which was led by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) highlighted concerns over the guidance affecting the Local Government Pension Scheme (LPGS) and how its funds were being invested.
The guidance was issued by the DCLG in September 2016 and is directed at those responsible for preparing LPGS investment strategy.
The PSC requested from the judge, Sir Ross Cranston, to rule that the guidance was legally flawed as one section prevents pension funds set up under the LPGS from participating in boycotts and the “ethical divestment” of companies who are complicit in Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine.
PSC campaigners say the illegal occupation is 50 years old this month and people have a right to decide not to profit from human rights abuses.
Their barrister, Nigel Giffin QC, said it was the UK Government case that boycotts were contrary to British foreign policy.
The government’s lawyers argued that all the grounds of challenge was absent of substance.
The judge said that the PSC and their supporters objected to the restricting effect of the guidance on their ability to campaign around the investment of local council pension funds affecting the Palestinians and the occupied territories.
He said: “On the other hand, the Government is concerned that local government pension funds should not be involved in such political issues because of the mixed messages it might give abroad; because it might undermine community cohesion at home by legitimising anti-Semitic or racist attitudes and attacks – although it accepts that anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian campaigning is not in itself anti-Semitic; and because it could impact adversely on the financial success of UK defence industries.
“None of these matters are at issue in this judicial review.
“The conclusion reached in the judgement has nothing to do with the political merits of the claimants’ or the Secretary of State’s position on these matters.
“In this court, the challenges the claimants raise are soluble through legal analysis, not political argument.
“The political merits of the respective arguments have no relevance.”