Palestine Solidarity Campaign defeats UK Government in Supreme Court over ethical pensions divestment

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Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) has won a landmark case in the Supreme Court after challenging UK Government regulations which 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.

The Supreme Court has ruled that the Government’s current ban on ethical pensions divestment is unlawful, overturning the previous decision of the Court of Appeal· The successful appeal in the Supreme Court was brought by Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the UK’s largest organisation campaigning for Palestinian rights· Campaigners hail “historic victory” against the UK Government as a win for democracy, freedom of expression and justice

In bringing the legal case, PSC – the UK’s largest organisation campaigning for Palestinian human rights – had raised concerns 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.

In 2016 the Department for Communities and Local Government issued guidance which prohibited Local Government Pension Schemes (LGPS) from pursuing divestment 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. In November 2018, PSC was granted permission to appeal this judgement at the Supreme Court. It was announced today that the Supreme Court ruled in favour of PSC.

The ruling comes just months after the UK Government announced its intention to introduce legislation to prohibit public bodies from imposing their own direct or indirect boycott divestment or sanctions (BDS) campaigns against foreign countries – a move that was widely condemned by human rights campaigners as an attack on civil liberties.

PSC has asserted that the UK Government’s defeat in the Supreme Court demonstrates the illegitimacy of its attempts to suppress BDS campaigns.

Kamel Hawwash, Chair of Palestine Solidarity Campaign, said: “This historic victory represents a major win not just for the campaign for Palestinian rights, but for the fundamental principles of democracy, freedom of expression and justice. The Supreme Court ruling sends a decisive message to the UK Government that they 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.

At a time when Israel is continuing to ramp up its oppression of the Palestinian people and its illegal acts, including annexing large swathes of the illegally occupied West Bank, the Government should be acting to uphold international law and defend human rights, not attacking peaceful campaigns which seek to do precisely that.

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

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 confirmation that the Government went too far in imposing its political opinions onto the management of the money of LGPS members.

LGPS members now have the freedom to pursue their own 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.”

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