The Palestine Solidarity Campaign has won the right 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 divesting from 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.
PSC has now been 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. It is likely that a hearing will take place in the second half of 2019.
Hugh Lanning, Chair of Palestine Solidarity Campaign, said, according to the PNN: “This historic decision marks a significant moment for the Palestinian solidarity movement and for all those who believe in democracy, freedom of expression and justice. In 2005, Palestinian civil society called for a campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions measures until Israel adheres to its obligations under international law. Everyone, including pension scheme members, has a right to heed the Palestinian call and peacefully protest Israel’s violation of human rights – it is their money being invested unethically. We look forward to once again challenging the Government in court on this fundamental issue. We would like to thank all our members and supporters who have enabled us through their funding and support to pursue this case.”
Jamie Potter, Partner in the Public Law and Human Rights team at Bindmans LLP, and solicitor for PSC said: “The Supreme Court’s decision to grant permission is welcome. The potential ramifications of the Court of Appeal decision are significant and worthy of consideration by the highest Court in the UK. 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.”
It is noteworthy that, in his judicial review circa 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.
In December 2016, The Palestine Solidarity Campaign applied for judicial review of the new government measures for LGPS. The claim was upheld by the High Court in June 2017.