A Grave Miscarriage of Justice: the case of Anne Mitchell

Anne Mitchell is an activist in Brighton and Hove, a lifelong antiracist with strong feelings on the Israel-Palestine conflict in particular. She is a well-known local Palestine Solidarity activist.

She was expelled from the Labour Party last October, without a hearing, solely on the “self-evident” basis of a small number of postings on social media.

It was a bizarre process and an appalling judgment.

As Richard Kuper shows below,  nothing in what Anne Mitchell posted justified a charge of antisemitism, let alone expulsion.

On this occasion, the Labour Party seems to have lost all sense of proportion – demonising the raising of critical questions and forgetting the important role of education and debate in developing members’ understanding of political issues, including how prejudice works and how to overcome it.

We trust that Keir Starmer’s commitment to overhaul the Party’s disciplinary procedures will ensure that such miscarriages of justice never occur again.

In summary

  • Nothing in Anne Mitchell’s political positions or in her postings suggests that she is in any way antisemitic, understanding by that someone expressing “hatred of or discrimination against Jews”.
  • We have repeatedly condemned the procedure whereby she (like others) was accused anonymously and then instructed not to reveal the content of any accusations to others.
  • But her case goes further, starting as a routine investigation but ending up as a case of summary expulsion without the right to a hearing and without the right to appeal. The decision to treat it in this way seems not to have been communicated to Mitchell until after she had been asked to submit a response to the charges and had done so cogently and at some length. There is no evidence that this submission, solicited from her,  was even read before deciding it was irrelevant to the case.
  • Her expulsion in this way is a gross abuse of what appears to be a partial anticipation of new fast-track procedures which Labour introduced to deal with what were termed, in explanation of the new code, egregious cases of antisemitism (and other forms of racism). Hers is certainly not an egregious case. It is not, in our view a case at all.

In this post we give, a brief

  1. summary of events
  2. summary of the charges
  3. response to the charges
  4. note on the purpose of disciplinary procedures

These are followed by four Appendices giving a fuller documentation of the case:


1. Summary of events

On 17 May 2018 Anne Mitchell was served with a Notice of Investigation with social media posts. It made it clear that:

“We are currently at the investigatory stage of the disputes process and at no time during an investigation does the Labour Party confer an assumption of guilt on any party. You are not currently administratively suspended ad restrictions have been placed on the rights associated with your membership at this time.”

The material supplied to Mitchell for comment were two social media posts, one to do with Marc Wadsworth, the other with Louise Ellman.

She responded promptly answering the queries and seems to have heard nothing more till 7 February 2019, over 8 months later.

Then she received an email from a new investigating officer in the Governance and Legal Unit (GLU). She was thanked for her reply, received on 31st May the previous year. The tone was friendly, but said that, in the meantime, there had been “an additional complaint” which was sent with this email, asking “further questions about content you appear to have posted on social media”, and saying that “[o]nce the Party has received a reply to these questions we will be able to resolve the matter as quickly as possible.”

This additional complaint amounted to another ten social media postings.

The rest of the email listed the support available to Ms Mitchell: her GP, the Samaritans: Citizens Advice and, lastly, the party’s Safeguarding Unit. It also stressed the issue of confidentiality, saying this was vital to ensure fairness to herself and to the complainant…

A week later, on 14th February, Mitchell responded once again, comprehensively, to the questions posed to her.

Within a matter of weeks now, on 25 March 2019, following a meeting of the Disputes Panel on 13th March, Mitchell received a “Notice of Referral to the National Constitutional Committee and Administrative Suspension” from the NEC.

At this point she was placed under administrative suspension and charged with “conduct prejudicial and/or grossly detrimental to the Labour Party”. She was accused of “public conduct online that may reasonably be seen to involve discriminatory actions stereotypes and sentiments; and/or which undermines the Party’s ability to campaign against racism”.

She was referred again to the support available and the duty of confidentiality stressed once more.

On 25th July 2019 Mitchell received a letter from the NCC  offering her a full opportunity to answer the charges levelled against her in anticipation of a hearing by an NCC panel. It included a lot of detail about the NCC panel, the appropriate way and timing for Mitchell to answer the charges, her right to representation at the hearing etc.

It is true, in the section near the bottom of p.2, “Determination of case by NCC”, snuck into the second para, is the phrase ” a panel may decide that it can properly determine a case without a hearing” – but nothing to suggest this was their line of thinking at this stage.

However in the Bundle of papers accompanying the NCC letter  (See APPENDIX A), is the NEC request to the NCC to determine the charge without a hearing, resting its cases solely on her social media posts claiming that “the strength of evidence on either side would not be improved through cross examination of Mrs Mitchell, any witnesses she may call, or the NEC presenter”.

This, of course is before Mitchell’s presentation of answers to the charges which the NCC letter has simultaneously asked her to provide should she wish to do so!

She did just that. In response to the charges as now formulated, Mitchell submitted a comprehensive rejoinder on 4 September 2019 (APPENDIX B).

There is no evidence that this was read by the NCC.

The NCC decided on immediate expulsion on the basis that the social media posts involve the derogative stereotyping of Jews and Israelis and are in breach the NEC’s Code of conduct, “largely undermine the Party’s ability to campaign against racism” and that their content “is prejudicial and grossly detrimental to the Labour Party”. The letter is dated 22 October 2019. (APPENDIX C).

Decisions of the NCC are final and not subject to appeal.

2. A summary of the charges

  1. The first charge is that Mitchell had said that the Labour Party antisemitism crisis was “manufactured” and that antisemitism was being privileged over other forms of racism.

Two of Mitchell’s social media posts are cited in evidence (items 3 and 7).

  1. A further charge is that Mitchell, quoting the title of an article in the Independent discussing remarks made by Sir Gerald Kaufman, without any further comment, is evidence of “apparent endorsement of the suggestion that the government is funded by ‘Jewish money'”.

On the basis of  three social media posts (the other ten social media screenshots were not referred to in the charges or the judgment), the NEC asked the NCC to “impose the maximum sanction appropriate”.

The full charges, evidence and interpretation in the NEC document run to a mere 355 words. They are dissected in APPENDIX D.

3. A brief response to the charges

a) Item 3 is the headline of an article in the Electronic Intifada saying “How Israel lobby manufactured UK labour Party’s anti-Semitism crisis” which Mitchell reposted.

Item 7 is a response to Daniel J Yates and 5 others saying: “Privileging antisemitism above other forms of race hatred is nothing to be proud about. Neither is supporting Israeli racism and apartheid. Shame on you Daniel Yates”

Other related posts (not cited) suggest that “As socialists we must not privilege one form of racism over others”; that BAME comrades might be being silenced, and that Mark Wadsworth’s treatment was “an absolute disgrace”.

It is evident that Mitchell is expressing her fears that complaint of antisemitism are taken more seriously than complaints of anti-black racism – surely not an unreasonable interpretation of the evidence.

The NEC, however, sees them as  evidence “that merely addressing claims of antisemitism places them in a privileged position or that there should be “be less favourable treatment of Jewish complainants”.

These NEC interpretations strike us as unreasonable and bizarre.

b) Item 5, the offending Kaufman-related heading is, in full: “Labour MP Gerald Kaufman accuses Government of being swayed by ‘Jewish money’”. Mitchell reposted it without further comment.

On this one might reasonably ask why she had reposted it. She answers, in her dossier:

“In posting the article I was mindful that if I posted it without comment it could be regarded as an endorsement of Mr. Kaufman’s views and therefore took the view that I should acknowledge his comment and scrupulously ensured that in reproducing the actual headline from the Independent that I too placed ‘Jewish money’ in inverted commas to signify that it is not my view but a direct quotation. This may have been naïve on my part but my inexperience in the use of Twitter at that time, although not an excuse, should at least allow this post to be seen in context. My error was in execution not intent and as an antiracist I obviously regret any distress I may have caused with this post.

Mr Kaufman’s use of the term ‘Jewish money’ is antisemitic and has been rightly criticised and while I do not agree with Mr. Kaufman’s sentiment I posted the article because Mr. Kaufman had come under relentless attack and the article revealed the tense and dangerous situation that pertained in Palestine at the time that may have led to his regrettable outburst…”

We give a more extended evaluation of the charges in APPENDIX D.

4. The purpose of disciplinary procedures

JVL sees dealing with antisemitism, as with all forms of racism, as an educative as well as a disciplinary matter – to eliminate what is blatantly antisemitic behaviour, with expulsions if necessary, but at the same time educating Party members and people more generally about the nuances and harms that may inadvertently be caused. The process must also at the same time preserve and foster the freedom to speak out and debate the injustices of the world, particularly, in this context, concerning the Palestinians.

How can anyone learn anything from a suspension or an expulsion unless they know what it is for? What did the individual do to merit such a harsh punishment? Without that knowledge all a disciplinary “zero-tolerance” approach achieves is to instil fear, to silence, to censor. It encourages self-censorship and we are all the losers. Our right to free speech, our ability to educate ourselves, our right to free and frank debate – all simply disappear out the window.

We cannot begin to understand what the Party sees as the point of the proceedings against Anne Mitchell’s. Why has the Party not publicised its arguments in this case. Why has it not tried to draw lessons from the experience to guide others in avoiding the pitfalls that the NEC deemed Mitchell to have fallen into, and which the NCC endorsed.

We can only say that in our view these arguments are paper thin and do not stand up for one moment to public scrutiny.


Appendices

Appendix A – the NEC case

Appendix B – Anne Mitchell’s response to the charges

Appendix C – The NCC Expulsion letter

Appendix D – An evaluation of the charges

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments (7)

  • Philip Ward says:

    “We trust that Keir Starmer’s commitment to overhaul the Party’s disciplinary procedures will ensure that such miscarriages of justice never occur again.”

    Fat chance: he’s just asked the apparatus to put all outstanding cases on his desk by Friday. I thought the leader was prevented from doing this by the party’s rules, or by GDPR, or both? The BoD and JLM are ecstatic.

    This is a complete and utter farce. Please, JVL, try to get us all together into some kind of mass protest / statement (or Hara-Kiri) to counter this appalling development.

  • Simon Dewsbury says:

    Horrifying

  • Oliver Currie says:

    I wonder, is it possible to sue for libel on the basis of summary and unfair expulsion from the Labour Party for antisemitism? Such events even for less prominent people are often reported in the media, moreover uncritically, and are seriously detrimental to a person’s reputation. Does anyone know whether this is legally possible and has anyone attempted it?

  • Malcolm Thwaite says:

    With a new Leader who acknowledged his support for Zionism, members can expect more kangaroo courts.

  • RC says:

    Libel (and even, since it is arguable whether these defamatory ‘judgments’ were published as such, slander) cases are notoriously difficult, dangerous and expensive to bring. Even application for a judicial review (I have no idea whether LP proceedings are subject to the relevant aspects of administrative law) would also be expensive. But it is increasingly important to threaten these anonymous functionaries and officers with a sharp rebuff; unless they receive such a blow, I fear that democratic agitation against their McCarthyite proceedings will suffer from the cowardice which affects those of us with less spirit than Mrs Mitchell and so many others.
    Democratic agitation and the spirit of solidarity are what we need, and they do not carry the disadvantage of demobilising our socialist spirits.
    However, there may be an admittedly nonsocialist but appealing road forward. Since the local police have already registered the persecution of Ann Mitchell as a hate crime – and since the JLM ‘logic’ provides that a complainant’s word must be believed, does not Mrs Mitchell have good reason to point out that the Labour Party – exceptionally not in this case anonymous – has been guilty of compounding the offence of hate crime against her?
    More generally, we have all too much reason to suspect that Starmer is possessed of a missionary zeal to use legal and paralegal machinery to persecute those he regards as heretics (recall his admonition to the Swedish prosecutor of Julian Assange not to get cold feet – and btw I suspect the British relishes giving the same murderous neglect as the Israelis are now giving to the Palestinians; it’s an ill pandemic that cannot destroy the enemies of imperialism….).

  • Andrew Hornung says:

    This is a letter I received from someone summarily suspended. This person is an ordinary Party member, holding no elected position – hardly a big-wig. Just the kind of person that, according to the Chakrabarti report, should not be the object of what is politely called “administrative suspension”. The notification of suspension 5 months ago did not even specify the charge.
    A short time ago this member’s accusers contacted his employers (an academy school trust) in an attempt to get him sacked for anti-Semitism.

    The comrade writes:
    “I have received nothing at all from Labour, aside from being told I was suspended, with no details of why or my accuser.
    I emailed them, to say I was being tormented on social media by my accuser. No response.
    My CLP Secretary messaged them, with my agreement, to say I’m ‘at risk’, due to my health and situation. No response.
    I have not been informed of the process I will face or been assigned an investigator, to my knowledge, having had no further contact from Labour.
    My CLP Secretary seems to be doing what she can; contacting and highlighting me as a safeguarding risk and privately sending me solidarity. She tried to enquire as to whether I would get a vote, prior to the leadership election, but got nothing back, as far as I know.
    I am feeling completely ignored by Labour HQ and totally voiceless, and am sitting here split between leaving the party so I’m not labelled as someone who was expelled from Labour for anti-Semitism (now with no faith in the disciplinary process having been completely ignored for 5 months, despite for the last few weeks having been flagged as a safeguarding risk and extremely alarmed by the steps Starmer has already committed to taking to appease the BoD) and hanging on in case there is some tiny hope that I will eventually be given an opportunity to clear my name.
    It’s really distressing and perplexing.

  • Pauline Fraser says:

    First of all I would like to congratulate Robert Jones and Richard Kuper on the painstaking work they have done in dissecting the charges against Anne Mitchell, that resulted in her suspension and then summary expulsion from the Labour Party without a hearing. This flagrant misuse of the rules would not stand up in a court of law. I have been aware of Anne Mitchell’s suspension and expulsion from the Labour Party for some time, how hard it has been for her, and the stress and pain she has suffered as a result. We can’t just allow good comrades, and Anne is one of the best, to be picked off, one at a time, leaving them at best with their self-esteem at rock bottom and at worst, with their mental health severely challenged. Other comments have cautioned against the difficulty and cost of bringing a court case, which would of course be a tortuous, time-consuming and stressful route. But we must take action, not only to show solidarity with Anne by publicising her case far and wide, but to send a message to the new leader and leadership of the Labour Party that the left is not prepared to lie down and be picked off one by one. I would suggest that JVL set up a zoom, or similar meeting that comrades can join and discuss ways to move forward on Anne’s case and others that have been raised in comments.

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