October 22, 2023 - 11:15am

There has been an “an awful lot of nonsense” spoken about whether pro-Palestine supporters should be allowed to protest in the UK, former Justice of the Supreme Court Jonathan Sumption has warned. In his first public comments on the conflict, the former Supreme Court justice argued that it was “not illegal at all” to march in favour of Palestine, and that “people who should know better” had made “rather silly and ill-considered statements”. 

In remarks made exclusively to UnHerd, Lord Sumption singled out Home Secretary Suella Braverman, who told senior police officers that waving a Palestinian flag or singing a chant advocating freedom for Arabs may be a criminal offence. “A great many of the slogans, the demonstrations, and the flags that we’ve seen in the streets are not illegal at all,” Sumption said. “It is not illegal to say that Palestinians have a legitimate grievance.”

The former judge noted that these were “not necessarily his views”, but added that it was not illegal to “lawfully and non-violently” support the cause which Hamas “supports violently”. “The mere fact that most Palestinians live in an area, Gaza, which is controlled by Hamas, does not mean to say that everything that you say in favour of the Palestinians is necessarily to be treated as equivalent to supporting Hamas,” he stated. 

Asked whether he feared that free speech was imperilled, Sumption responded that he wouldn’t go “that far”. He did, however, notice that support for Israel had become more tempered — even among the Jewish state’s most ardent backers. “My impression is that we are tending slightly to recede from the initial feeling that all good men must necessarily support Israel,” he said. “A realisation of the humanitarian consequences of the threatened Israeli invasion of Gaza has caused quite a lot of people — not everybody, but a lot of people — to pause.” Lord Sumption went on to warn that a ground invasion of Gaza could also contain some of the same “indiscriminate qualities that people quite rightly objected to when practised by Hamas”.

The former Supreme Court Justice argued, when questioned as to whether Israel is breaking international law, that “I certainly believe that it has done and that what it threatens to do now would do.” Sumption added, “It’s contrary to international law to forcibly displace people from their homes, to blockade them in the way that Israel has been doing, certainly since 2007.” Echoing these concerns, Israel’s allies were quick to caution the Jewish state about failing to uphold international law. Over the past week, both the US President Joe Biden and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak warned Israel to “respect international law” and ensure a proportionate response to Hamas’s attack on 7 October.

Lord Sumption added that the modern interpretation of just war was largely based on the Hague and Geneva conventions, which risk becoming outdated. “These are quite difficult concepts to apply to a fighting force, which is not a disciplined army, of the sort that people had in mind in 1908,” the Supreme Court justice said, “but which is a semi-organised group or — for want of a better word — thugs, like Hamas”. 

Watch the full interview HERE.

is UnHerd’s Newsroom editor.