Local government, boycott motions and the PSED

Cases

The Court of Appeal has today handed down its judgment in Jewish Human Rights Watch v Leicester City Council, an important case concerning the interplay between local authorities’ power to adopt non-binding resolutions on matters of political controversy and their duties under s.149 of the Equality Act (the “PSED”).

The resolution in issue before the Court of Appeal was adopted by Leicester City Council in November 2014, and resolved “insofar as legal considerations allow, to boycott produce originating from illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank until such time as it complies with International law an withdraws from Palestinian Occupied territories.” Jewish Human Rights Watch argued that the resolution singled out Israel for criticism, and that the Council failed to consider the effect of so doing on the Jewish community in the UK, and in particular in and around Leicester in breach of the PSED.

The Court of Appeal, upholding the judgment of the Divisional Court below (Simon LJ and Flaux J)), held that on a reading of the resolution and the transcript of the debate which preceded its adoption, it was clear that the councillors had due regard to the matters set out in s.149 (1) and had thus satisfied the PSED.

In reaching that conclusion, Sales LJ provided useful clarification on the scope of the PSED. Simon LJ, who gave judgment in the Divisional Court, suggested that the PSED did not apply to the adoption of local authority resolutions unless the resolution was “closely focused and the policy will be directly implemented”. Sales LJ rejected that approach. He held that the PSED does apply in relation to the adoption of resolutions, albeit that specific context was relevant to the extent of the consideration required in order to have “due regard” as required by the PSED.

That context was explored at paras 38-42 of the Court’s judgment. Sales LJ emphasised there as significant that the resolution was a “political gesture”, and not an attempt to set out binding policy, and the elected councillors who debated and voted on the resolution were familiar with their areas and community relations within it. It was not necessary, therefore, for reports or further inquiries to be undertaken in order to comply with the PSED (para 40).

Click here to read the judgment.

Andrew Sharland QC and Zac Sammour acted for Leicester City Council