Court hears Labour members’ case against unjust disciplinary system

Diana Neslen

JVL Introduction

On Thursday a court heard arguments brought by eight Labour Party members challenging their treatment under the party’s dysfunctional disciplinary processes. Judgement will be pronounced next month and could mark a turning point in the battle to bring justice and fairness to the current punitive regime purporting to deal with antisemitism in the party.

In the video below, recorded during last Sunday’s Not the Andrew Marr Show, you can hear the claimants’ case eloquently outlined by Mike Howard and Diana Neslen, two Jewish members of the Labour Activists for Justice group, and by Ammar Kazmi representing the Labour Left Fighting Fund. Testimony from Diana Neslen, an 81-year-old Orthodox Jew accused of antisemitism, is particularly affecting.

Below that we reproduce Ammar Kazmi’s Twitter thread giving an initial outline of Thursday’s court hearing.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z5NoXa9NES4

Ammar Kazmi twitter thread

Thread: Eight Labour activists had their trial against the Labour Party in the High Court today, alleging that the disciplinary procedures to which they’ve been subjected are unfair and unlawful.

I followed the trial and here are my notes: ↓

The barrister for the eight claimants, Maya Lester QC, began setting out the claimants’ case. They are bringing a breach of contract claim, alleging that the Labour Party has acted contrary to the requirements of natural justice and procedural fairness under the party Rule Book.

The claimants seek the following three declarations from the court:

Declaration 1: the party has breached the express and implied terms of fairness in its contract (against two of the claimants) by failing to disclose—and then later relying on—an unpublished Antisemitism Code of Conduct that the claimants didn’t know was being applied to them.

(Declaration 1 had originally been sought for all the claimants but—part way through proceedings on 31 March—the party decided to publish the previously unpublished Code and allowed six claimants to make representations on it. This opportunity was denied to the other two.)

The claimants say that Labour members must know what conduct is considered ‘acceptable’ by the party (principle of foreseeability). Moreover, if they are accused of misconduct, they must know what criteria apply (principle of transparency and ‘knowing the case against you’).

Members must also know whether the party’s rules of conduct that are being used against them are being applied in a fair, consistent, and non-arbitrary manner. In order to assess this, they need to see the actual rules that are being used.

It is vital that the claimants know these things because of: (1) the seriousness of the accusation [antisemitism]; (2) the seriousness of the consequences [e.g. suspension/ expulsion]; and (3) the seriousness of reputational damage.

Declaration 2: the party has breached the express and implied terms of fairness in failing to act appropriately towards the claimants after: (1) the findings of the EHRC Report and (2) the party’s acceptance of those findings and commitments to put in place a new, fair procedure.

The claimants say that Keir Starmer told party members (and the country) in the clearest of terms that he accepted the EHRC Report and would change the party’s procedures.

Yet, the party continues using processes that the EHRC found to be unfair (something the party accepted).

Declaration 3: the confidentiality requirements that the party placed on the claimants’ Notices of Investigation materially misstate the extent to which the process is subject to obligations of confidentiality. They go far beyond the obligations outlined in the Rule Book.

The claimants say that the confidentiality requirements caused them real harm, and that it is unfair to tell members that they’re under an obligation of confidentiality that doesn’t actually exist (under ‘threats’ of further disciplinary action should they not comply).

Some claimants say that they felt unable to disclose to people that they were even under investigation and unable to respond to accusations against them in the national press, even though they were entitled to do so.

The claimants say that they’re not impermissibly asking the court to ‘micromanage’ their investigations or to get involved in a political dispute; all they seek are three limited declarations from the court regarding natural justice and procedural fairness.

The Labour Party’s barrister, Rachel Crasnow QC, then began her submissions on behalf of the party (the defendant). The party says that the court should not intervene in this case, as the question of disciplinary issues is properly a matter for the party to decide.

On Declaration 1: the party says that it was not required by law to give the claimants every detail of the rules being used against them, provided that the claimants were able to at least respond to the ‘gist’ of the allegations.

On Declaration 2: the party says that the EHRC did not find that its disciplinary system was fundamentally unjust or that it could no longer be used. The party has also never committed itself to replacing the whole disciplinary system with ‘a new, fair system’.

The party says that it has only committed itself to introducing *independence* to the disciplinary system and that the timeline for doing so was never ‘a matter of weeks’ but simply ‘as quickly as possible’.

On Declaration 3: the party says that its confidentiality requirements aren’t a problem, because they didn’t prevent the claimants from seeking legal assistance. The party also disputes the alleged harm that the confidentiality requirements caused to the claimants.

The party says that it fears that the claimants (or some of them, or those supporting them) have ulterior motives for bringing the claim, and that the result of this case might be misused against the Labour Party for political purposes.

The party also asked the judge to delay his judgment until after 1 July because of the Batley and Spen by-election. The party said that it was a period of ‘special sensitivity’ and that George Galloway was specifically campaigning against Labour on Israel-Palestine/ antisemitism.

The party said that delaying the judgment would be ‘in the interests of justice’.

The judge replied by saying that he did not expect to hand down his judgment that quickly, anyway.

The barrister for the claimants then made rebuttals.

The claimants: disputed the idea that the court could not intervene in this case; re-asserted their arguments about the EHRC Report and confidentiality; and repudiated the idea that they had ulterior motives.

The trial then came to an end.

The judge has reserved his judgment and will likely come to a decision at some point in July 2021.

Some of my own commentary: the impact of this case could be significant. Depending on which way it goes, it could set a precedent about how the party is expected to treat its members during disciplinary action, and what level of protection members can expect from the court.

Moreover, in my view, the party has effectively said one thing to the public about its response to the EHRC Report (unequivocal acceptance) and another thing to the court (that the party only accepts the EHRC’s strict legal recommendations).

In other words, whilst ‘accepting’ all of the EHRC’s recommendations and the need for an ‘independent’ process, the party says that its current system is… not unfair?

I imagine this will be of interest to many Labour members.

The suggestion that the judgment should not be handed down before the Batley and Spen by-election, with the implication that it might reflect badly on the party or cause it some adversity, was also noteworthy.

 

 

Comments (9)

  • Kuhnberg says:

    Again and again I have been shocked at the extent to which pro-Israel and pro-establishment bias has resulted in legal verdicts that are patently absurd. How impartial is the court and its processes? To what extent can we rely on this court to deliver justice?

  • Jan Brooker says:

    “The suggestion that the judgment should not be handed down before the Batley and Spen by-election, with the implication that it might reflect badly on the party or cause it some adversity, was also noteworthy.”
    … and now we have the result of another by-election. Sir’s LP managed *the Labour Party’s worst ever performance in a by-election*. Way to go ….

  • Anthony Sperryn says:

    I did chip in for the claimants in this case and they deserve to win. It appears to me that the Labour Party’s rule book is as cock-eyed as the Israeli legal system, which deprives Palestinians of their homes, and is irremediably bad (they both are).

    In any case, in my view, the Court’s verdict is irrelevant, because it is fairly obvious that the Labour Party, as an institution, is a dead duck, up the creek, or however one might like to describe it more picturesquely.

    People’s loyalties and sentiments to it are misplaced. In recent years (pre-Corbyn, but they fought him), the Party has been something of a fraud, and the voters, who are independent people, want none of it, as the Chesham and Amersham result showed.

    A new Party is needed, unless the Labour Party can radically change itself, clearing out most of the bureaucracy, the leadership and the PLP.
    However, only if the LibDems purge themselves of their market fundamentalism will they gain lasting loyalty of Labour members.

    People matter and we, actually, now have to pull together (covid has shown it emphatically). It used to be called “socialism”, but that is still, but needn’t be, a dirty word amongst the electorate at large.

  • harry law says:

    “The party also asked the judge to delay his judgment until after 1 July because of the Batley and Spen by-election”. Shock! horror, some of our opponents will be campaigning against us.
    “The party said that delaying the judgment would be ‘in the interests of justice’.”
    No, in this case delaying justice would amount to justice denied, and purely for political expediency.

  • John Thatcher says:

    If this case is lost, it will remove what little regard I had left for the Judicial processes in this country. I have long since lost all regard for those who control and run the LP.

  • Alan says:

    I’m writing this comment on 19 June 2021. I imagine that many Labour Party members and supporters have noted the appallingly low Labour vote this week in the Chesham and Amersham by-election.

    Perhaps Party members and supporters will judge this event taking comfort from some of the myriad “experts” offering explanations and excuses.

    Though I hope that “important” people in the Party who have influence and help shape such judgements will ignore the media clamour. And instead pause for some calm frank conversations on key issues where Labour appears to have lost the plot.

    Including the court case by these eight Labour Party members. Where it must now be obvious that whatever the judge decides, the Party has already lost any moral authority whatsoever in these cases.

    I suggest, if this is legally possible the Court might be invited to endorse an agreement by all sides which ends the dispute. A settlement which accepts the eight members’ arguments and restores their memberships. And which adopts a reasonable timetable for establishing a fair process, underpinned by a return to the Principles of Natural Justice. ( I had somehow assumed such principles were obvious and inherent in a Democratic Socialist party.)

  • rc says:

    Word is, not from a mere little bird but from a veteran LP activist, that a leading campaign theme in C&A as well as Batley and Spen was to be Israel and Palestine. No details on what that theme was, but they reasonably suggested that two such different constituencies might need different emphases: it had been suggested that C&A had enough Hindu dentists and doctors to give pause for thought re this theme; B&S, on the other hand, was allegedly (and I don’t think wrongly) to be far more diverse in almost every respect – especially re Muslims. Barely even a thought, more a vague suspicion. Can anyone be a bit more precise?

  • Alan Stanton says:

    Apologies for the glitch – probably my own fault – which resulted in my surname being omitted from the comment above by “Alan”.

    When I post online I only do so as Alan Stanton – my real name.

  • Erica flegg says:

    It is at last starting to break through to public awareness that a false anti-semitism campaign is being waged in Western countries against supporters of Palestinian rights. Thus Starmer’s fear of Galloway in Batley and Spen, which it is somewhat surprising to see the party bosses are not too embarrassed to admit!

    And pretty rich that Corbyn was chucked out of the PLP for failing to endorse the EHRC’s findings fulsomely enough, when Starmer hasn’t even bothered to implement them!

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