Palestine Solidarity Campaign to take on Government in court over pensions divestment

  • On Wednesday 20th November Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) will be in the Supreme Court to appeal the Court of Appeal’s decision that a ban on ethical divestment by Local Government Pension Schemes is lawful.
  • Campaigners are concerned about threats to freedom of expression, government overreach in local democracy, and the right of pension holders to have a say in the investment and divestment of funds.
  • PSC were granted permission to appeal by a Supreme Court panel in November 2018. Only 1 in 3 cases that apply to the Supreme Court get permission to appeal.

On Wednesday 20th November, Palestine Solidarity Campaign will be in the Supreme Court to challenge the Court of Appeal judgement which upheld the Government’s right to restrict Local Government Pension Schemes (LGPS) from divesting contrary to UK foreign and defence policy, thereby limiting the possibility of divestment from companies involved in Israel’s human rights violations.

In 2016 the Department for Communities and Local Government’s issued guidance which prohibited Local Government Pension Schemes (LGPS) from disinvesting against foreign nations and UK defence industries. This included a prohibition against disinvestment in companies on the basis that they trade in products produced in the occupied Palestinian territories, for example, even if this was the will of the LGPS members.

In June 2017, PSC brought a Judicial Review challenge which resulted in the Administrative Court ruling that the decision to prohibit LGPS funds from this kind of disinvestment was unlawful. The Court of Appeal then overturned the Administrative Court’s decision at a hearing in May 2018.

In November 2018, PSC was granted permission to appeal this judgement at the Supreme Court. According to Bindmans LLP, PSC’s solicitor, approximately 1 in 3 cases that apply to the Supreme Court get permission to appeal in this way. The hearing is taking place on the morning of Wednesday 20th November. It is not clear how soon a final decision will be reached.

Kamel Hawwash, Chair of  Palestine Solidarity Campaign, said: “This landmark case is critical to pushing back against attempts to stifle the Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions movement, and to defending the right of pension holders to refuse to be complicit in the oppression of the Palestinian people. All of us should be able to choose not to be complicit in Israel’s violations of international law and human rights – a win in this case would be a triumph for all those who believe in democracy, freedom of expression and justice.”

Jamie Potter, Partner in the Public Law and Human Rights team at Bindmans LLP, and solicitor for PSC said: “We welcome the Supreme Court’s consideration of this important issue as the potential ramifications of the Court of Appeal decision are significant. If the Court of Appeal decision is allowed to stand, it permits the executive carte blanche to impose their own political perspective on the investment of citizens’ money. However, if PSC is successful in its appeal, the Government will not be able to interfere in the ethical investment decisions of LGPS and their members.”

ENDS

NOTES FOR EDITORS:

  • PSC is represented by Jamie Potter and Jessie Brennan of Bindmans LLP, along with Nigel Giffin QC and Zac Sammour of 11KBW.
  • In his judicial review in 2017, Administrative Court Judge Sir Ross Cranston determined that the Government had acted unlawfully by attempting to restrict local councils from pursuing BDS against foreign nations (such as the state of Israel) and UK defence companies through their pension schemes on the basis that the secretary of State was acting for an improper purpose.
  • The Government’s 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.
  • Palestine Solidarity Campaign applied for judicial review of the new government measures for LGPS in December 2016. The claim was upheld by the High Court in June 2017.
  • YouGov polling on British public attitudes to Palestine shows that 43% of the public consider the BDS movement to be reasonable.
  • 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.
  • The Israeli government has set up a Ministry devoted to anti-BDS activities, and laws have been introduced in the US, France and elsewhere attempting to criminalise BDS.