High Court rules government acted unlawfully over restricting Israel boycott

Pro-Palestinian activists brought case over guidance on how local government pensions funds are invested


The High Court has ruled that the government acted unlawfully in attempting to restrict the Israel boycott.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) had brought the case over guidance issued by the Department for Communities and Local Government last September.

The guidance had included a section preventing the Local Government Pension Scheme from taking part in “ethical divestment” and boycotts of companies accused of playing a role in the Israeli occupation.

The judge, Sir Ross Cranston, said this element of the guidance was beyond what was available under the statutory powers of the Communities and Local Government Secretary.

Making his ruling on Thursday morning, the judge allowed an application for judicial review.

He said the PSC and its supporters objected to guidance because it limited their ability to campaign on the boycott issue.

He noted that the government was “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 antisemitic or racist attitudes and attacks – although it accepts that anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian campaigning is not in itself anti-Semitic.

But he added: “None of these matters are at issue in this judicial review.

“The conclusion reached in the judgment has nothing to do with the political merits of the claimants’ or the Secretary of State’s position on these matters.

The PSC hailed the ruling as a "triumph" for the boycott movement.

Hugh Lanning, PSC chair, said: “Today is a victory for Palestine, for local democracy, and for the rule of law. Absolutely everyone has a right to peacefully protest Israel’s violation of Palestinian human rights. This ruling upholds the right of local councils and their pension funds to invest ethically without political interference from the government of the day.

Simon Johnson, chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council, expressed concern at the ruling.

He said: “The government’s guidance to local authorities not to engage in discriminatory boycotts was issued for good and sound reasons. We look forward to hearing from government, once they have studied the judgment, how they intend to deliver their stated policy to prevent local authorities from making decisions which affect local people based on a council’s view of foreign policy.”

A spokesperson for the Board of Deputies said: “This was a decision reached on technical legal grounds. It was decided that guidance exceeded the permissible purpose. We are examining ways in which the guidance can to be re-issued in a way that complies with the legal rules.”

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