Campaigners are celebrating a significant victory after a Supreme Court panel in the UK granted the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) permission to appeal the Court of Appeal's decision that a ban on ethical divestment by Local Government Pension Schemes is lawful.
In June the British Court of Appeal overturned a High Court ruling which found the UK government acted improperly by curtailing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaigns against Israel's violations of international law.
PSC, an organisation which regularly campaigns for Palestinian human rights, expressed its disappointment at the overturning of the High Court's ruling, saying that the move "fails to protect the right of pension holders to make ethical decisions regarding the investment of their funds."
Campaigners say that they 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.
The PSC announced today that it had won the right to challenge the Court of Appeal judgement which upheld the government's right to restrict Local Government Pension Schemes (LGPS) from boycotting and divesting on ethical grounds. PSC argued that the decision was contrary to UK foreign and defence policy, because it limited the possibility of divestment from companies involved in Israel's human rights violations.
PSC's position was backed by a 2017 judicial review by Judge Sir Ross Cranston who determined that the government had acted unlawfully by attempting to restrict local councils from pursuing BDS against foreign nations and UK defence companies through their pension schemes.
The UK government's move to criminalise boycotting was denounced by rights groups who argued that sanctions and boycott on ethical grounds was a basic right that was employed successfully to end apartheid in South Africa. The governments attack on BDS was led by the Department for Communities and Local Government, which in 2016 issued guidance prohibiting Local Government Pension Schemes (LGPS) from divesting 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.
The prohibition was challenged by PSC which in June 2017 called for a Judicial Review. It 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 one in three 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:
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."
Jamie Potter, PSC's solicitor, 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."