Campaigners have applied for a judicial review of Government regulations that prevent local council pension schemes from taking part in boycotts of foreign nations or arms companies on ethical grounds.

Guidance issued earlier this year states that it is “inappropriate” for the schemes to pursue boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) unless they have been put in place by the Government. Funds should make “the pursuit of a financial return” their predominant concern.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign will argue that this restriction limits freedom of expression and prevents councils from supporting the BDS movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions directed at Israel over its actions in the Palestinian territories.

PSC chair Hugh Lanning said: “The right to call for and practise BDS in all arenas is guaranteed by the right to freedom of expression and freedom of conscience. Local democracy is undermined when central Government clamps down on people’s abilities to diverge from or disagree with UK foreign policy and the defence industry.

“There is no legitimate reason why the Government should prevent people with local government pensions from being able to divest and invest exactly as they wish. These regulations are part of a larger pattern of attempts by the Government to delegitimise BDS. We are concerned that these new measures limit our fundamental freedoms.”

Human rights solicitor Jamie Potter of Bindmans, who are representing PSC in the case – which has the support of War On Want and the Campaign Against Arms Trade – said: “The Government is seeking to use powers in respect of pensions to stifle debate and disagreement regarding the role of foreign countries and the arms trade in violations of human rights around the world.

“This is not only unlawful, but is also an erosion of democracy and freedom of speech. The Government cannot be permitted to impose its views on individuals and the organisations that represent them. If this is permissible, there will be nothing to stop the targeting of campaigns in other areas where there is disagreement over the Government’s approach, such as the environment and health.”