Rights activists overjoyed as Javid guidelines struck down, writes Felicity Collier
PALESTINIAN rights activists were delighted yesterday after High Court judges said the government was breaking the law by preventing local councils from joining an ethical boycott of Israel.
The judicial review brought by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) focused on the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) and its links to companies accused of complicity in Israel’s illegal settler occupations of Palestinian lands.
PSC argued that government guidelines imposed on LGPS are illegal because they prevent pension funds set up under the scheme from joining ethical boycotts.
The judge said that Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Sajid Javid acted unlawfully because such guidance falls outside his statutory powers and was for purposes not related to pensions.
The government had wrongly used pension law to pursue its own foreign and defence policy, the court ruled.
PSC chair Hugh Lanning said: "This 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."
War on Want, Campaign Against Arms Trade and the Quakers supported the legal challenge by providing witness statements.
Jamie Potter, a partner in the public law and human rights team at Bindmans LLP, said: "This outcome is a reminder to the government that it cannot improperly interfere in the exercise of freedom of conscience and protest in order to pursue its own agenda."
Mr Javid first announced measures In February to prevent councils from picking and choosing the companies and countries they use — particularly boycotting goods from Israel — if it is against the government’s position.
At the time he said: "We will clamp down on these inappropriate and needless boycotts once and for all."
A spokesman for Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn responded to the government’s plan at the time by branding it "an attack on local democracy."
Mr Javid went ahead with the guidance even though 98 per cent of respondents to a prior public consultation said they thought it was wrong to invest in companies which are complicit in human rights abuses.
A recent YouGov poll for PSC showed that 43 per cent of respondents supported BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions).