Putting the LA4J decision in perspective

Dying rose. Image Monica Popa

JVL Introduction

The LA4Justice group of eight claimants heard the outcome of their day in court on Thursday, 8th July.

This group of women and men, all rank-and-file Labour Party activists, took legal action against their Party’s treatment of them.

While the final judgement was disappointing, they should be applauded for the persistence and collective solidarity.

They made some gains which will be important for Party members, over the publication of the 2018 Code of Conduct on Antisemitism, on a clarification of the Party’s ‘request’ for confidentiality in disciplinary cases and with withdrawal of proceedings against an additional five members.

LA4J’s own comment on the outcome, Labour Party wins: all members lose, was posted on our website yesterday.

Ammar Kazmi ’s article and the Morning Star account, both reposted below, give a wider political context, explaining why the Party’s victory may turn out to be “pyrrhic”.

The claimants’ legal costs will be substantial, please give generously to the LA4J’s CrowdJustice appeal here.

You can download the full text of the judgement here.


Labour activists lose High Court challenge over anti-semitism complaints

Sam Tobin, Morning Star, 8th July 2021

EIGHT current or former Labour members lost a High Court claim against the party today over its disciplinary process for investigating complaints of anti-semitism.

They alleged Labour had acted unfairly by failing to close investigations or revoke suspensions and expulsions after the equality watchdog found that the party’s disciplinary procedure was unfair.

The Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said there was “a lack of a clear and fair process for respondents” to allegations of anti-semitism in its October 2019 report, the court heard.

The party responded that it accepted the EHRC’s recommendations and findings in full, with leader Sir Keir Starmer saying Labour would establish “an independent complaints process as soon as possible.”

The eight claimants, who all deny they have made anti-semitic comments, argued the party was trying to “row back from these commitments,” which were made in “clear and unequivocal public statements.”

They sought a declaration from the High Court that Labour had acted unfairly by not closing investigations or revoking their suspension or expulsion after the party committed to following the EHRC’s recommendations.

Two of the claimants — Diana Neslen, who was given a formal warning, and Colin O’Driscoll, who was expelled from the party but following an appeal had his membership cancelled for 18 months — also argued Labour acted unfairly by handling their cases under an unpublished code of conduct.

However Mr Justice Butcher dismissed the claimants’ case in a ruling today.

He said: “The party’s statements that it accepted the findings and recommendations of the (EHRC) report did not amount to an acceptance that use for existing complaints of the current system … was unfair.”

Mr Justice Butcher also refused to make a declaration that Labour acted unfairly by applying a previously unpublished code of conduct dealing with anti-semitism complaints, adopted by the party in 2018, while investigating Ms Neslen and Mr O’Driscoll.

Ms Neslen told the Star: “This is an extremely disappointing decision.

“The Labour Party had a chance to address the issues properly, but instead they chose to fight this.

“I think it’s a pyrrhic victory because it shows the Labour Party has learned nothing on how to treat its members.

“In the end the we keep on fighting and hopefully the wind will change.”

A Labour Party spokesman said: “We welcome this important ruling that confirms our right to determine how we handle complaints.

“We are getting on with the job of reforming our processes, structures and culture for the benefit of all of our members and to ensure Jewish people feel safe and welcome in our party.”


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Labour on Trial:The Slow Death of Blairism

Ammar Kazmi, blog, 8th July 2021

After a lengthy legal battle, eight Labour activists who have suffered ‘unfair’ disciplinary action have finally reached the finish line in their legal claim against the Labour Party. Whilst achieving substantial victories since the case began over half a year ago, it was the party that disappointingly won the final round in the High Court today.

In going to court, the claimants had set out to ensure the party would: (1) adhere to the principles of natural justice and procedural fairness, (2) respond to the findings of unfairness contained in last year’s EHRC Report on ‘Labour antisemitism’, and (3) refrain from giving the impression that party members are under more stringent confidentiality requirements than they really are.

Taking on a court case is always a daunting and risky endeavour. By and large, the party never has to face legal action by grassroots members; it can revel in the fact that the costs are simply too prohibitive for most. However, the collective approach taken in this case — pursuing a crowdfunded group claim — demonstrates the power of solidarity. The claimants are ordinary men and women who banded together for over half a year and, despite an undesirable end, made many achievements for themselves and other party members. They deserve a lot of credit. The Labour Party will doubtlessly be pursuing its costs against them, which will probably be substantial. Any solidarity you can show through contributing to the Left Legal Fighting Fund, which supported two of the claimants, would, I am sure, be gratefully received.

Substance of the legal case

Since 2018, and until recently, the party had been secretly applying an unpublished ‘Antisemitism Code of Conduct’ to disciplinary cases. The claimants argued that if Labour members are accused of misconduct, then it is only right that they should know what criteria apply to them. However, the court agreed with the party’s view that the claimants only needed to know ‘the gist’ of the material being used against them.

The party also continues to use disciplinary processes that the EHRC found to be unfair. This is in spite of the fact that Keir Starmer told party members — and the country — in the clearest of terms in October 2020 that he accepted the EHRC Report and would change the party’s procedures. That has still not happened. Nevertheless, the court accepted the party’s argument — which ran brazenly counter to its unequivocal public statements about accepting the Report ‘in full’ and ‘without qualification’ — that the EHRC apparently did not find that the party’s processes were ‘fundamentally unfair’.

The same processes, and indeed the same Code of Conduct, used under Jeremy Corbyn — which supposedly resulted in ‘unlawful indirect discrimination and harassment’ according to the EHRC — are now magically fit-for-purpose under Keir Starmer.

Lastly, the claimants argued that the party’s confidentiality requirements caused them real harm. Some claimants said 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. Yet, the court agreed with the party that there had been no unfairness and, even if there had been, the court would not have intervened lest it ended up ‘micromanaging’ a political party. Effectively, policy reasons would have superseded the law.

The bigger picture: victories and underhandedness

Mr Justice Butcher’s judgment today — which comes off the back of a High Court trial on 17 June 2021 — only represents the last leg of the legal process. The claimants decided to begin legal proceedings in late 2020 and, since that time, have managed to score a number of victories against the party.

At a preliminary hearing in February 2021, the party faced a total defeat after it unsuccessfully attempted to prevent two party members from joining the group claim.

Furthermore, as a result of this legal action, the party finally published its ‘Antisemitism Code of Conduct’ at the end of March 2021 as part of a ‘Complaints Handling Handbook’. Astonishingly, the party admitted in open court that it had refused to previously publish this document because it would have been ‘politically incendiary’.

Moreover, in what appears to be a similar concession by the party, its National Executive Committee (NEC) discussed at the beginning of June 2021 the creation of a ‘Code of Conduct on Confidentiality and Privacy’, to be finalised at the body’s next full meeting. It can be surmised that this is a direct response to the claimants’ arguments on confidentiality.

In fact, whilst the court’s stance on confidentiality was perhaps the most disappointing part of today’s judgment, the party’s approach in this case should highlight to all party members who are subject to disciplinary action that they are entitled to speak about their cases. They are not ‘gagged’, as the party strongly implies; they can defend themselves publicly and seek advice from whomsoever they wish, with the only caveat being that they should not release information that may be confidential and prejudicial to others.

Additionally, whilst there were originally thirteen potential claimants, the party pre-emptively backed down by ending its disciplinary actions against five of them before even reaching court, leaving them totally in the clear.

On the one hand, this was a stunning success: five party members — who had been treated appallingly — were finally ‘rehabilitated’. However, paradoxically, it prevented those same individuals from having their day in court. Amongst those who had their investigations terminated was someone who had potentially suffered disability discrimination under equality legislation and others who had been suspended for several years.

In other words, the individuals who could demonstrate some of the most compelling examples of abuse and possibly unlawful conduct at the hands of party bureaucrats were picked off early. Three of the five who were reinstated had their notice letters reach them at the last minute, just days before going to court in February 2021. It is difficult to escape the conclusion that this was a cynical strategy by the party to evade scrutiny and justice.

Indeed, this is not the first time that the party has deployed this tactic. When former MP Chris Williamson took Labour to court in September 2019 to challenge his ‘re-suspension’ from the party — two days after an NEC panel had reinstated him — the party used a similar manoeuvre. Just one week before Williamson’s court hearing, the party issued an artificial third suspension, to run parallel to the one he was challenging in court. So, when he won his court case and overturned his ‘re-suspension’, he nevertheless remained suspended.

Consequences

It could not be clearer that the Labour Party is a law unto itself. In addition to today’s judgment being, what I consider, an example of ‘judicial hesitance’ (courts being disinclined to ‘interfere’ in the affairs of political parties), it will also give succour to the worst aspects of Labour’s McCarthyite disciplinary machine. Not only is it clear that gross excesses perpetrated against party members cannot be remedied internally, party members also cannot expect the law of the land to come to their aid, either.

This case has shone a spotlight on the party’s egregious hypocrisy, which has become all too clear over the last month.

Despite publicly claiming to support all the EHRC’s recommendations, the party has made it clear in court that it will only comply with the strictest, narrowest legal obligations following the EHRC Report. Rather than urgently implementing a brand new, independent disciplinary system, it will merely seek to introduce an air of ‘independence’ to the existing process, on an unspecified timescale of its own choosing. Whilst sacking Rebecca Long-Bailey, withdrawing the whip from Jeremy Corbyn, and suspending dozens of party activists over the most minor of trumped-up ‘transgressions’ and manufactured outrage, the party leadership will encourage racist, anti-Palestinian, pro-Israel campaigners and stoke Islamophobia at every opportunity.

Racism and familiar faces: return to New Labour

It is now transparent in which direction the Labour Party is heading. The racist rhetoric deployed during the Batley and Spen by-election on 1 July 2021 has been freshly consummated with new racist deeds. It was revealed earlier this month that the New Labour darling and former EHRC chairman, Trevor Phillips — who had been suspended for over a year for a string of Islamophobic comments — had been quietly reinstated. This is before Phillips had even faced an NEC disciplinary panel (the standard practice).

Phillips is not the only Blairite ghoul to be resurrected from the shadowy depths: his good friend Peter Mandelson was summoned in February 2021 to help solidify the anti-Corbyn counter-revolution. Indeed, it was likely Mandelson — the same age as Phillips, friends with him since his student days, and even best man at his first wedding — who lobbied to have Phillips readmitted to the party. Mandelson has previously said, in response to last year’s EHRC Report, that the party should reject the idea of an ‘independent’ disciplinary system. The mask has not slipped: it was never on in the first place.

The reinstatement of Phillips, at the apparent behest of Mandelson, serves as a signal to liberal Islamophobes everywhere that Labour is the party for them. After all, New Labour was responsible for introducing and proliferating modern-day Islamophobia in Britain through: brutal wars in West Asia; the securitisation of Muslim communities though so-called ‘counter-terrorism legislation’; and the promotion of racist US State Department talking points about Muslims, crafted by the neoconservative Bush regime. Meanwhile, anti-Zionists in the party — including Palestinians and Jews, like four of the claimants in this case — are treated with hostility and contempt.

End of the road

The claimants have been able to walk away with a partial victory today: five of their number have received some semblance of justice through being reinstated without preconditions. The claim has also improved transparency on the ‘Antisemitism Code of Conduct’ and the party’s confidentiality requirements. Moreover, it has shed light on the party’s brazen hypocrisy, and highlighted its political trajectory. This will benefit all party members.

In the end, though, the party has escaped the scathing verdict it deserved. And that should leave a bad taste in all our mouths. What this case has proven is that Labour is simply beyond repair. It is the duty of socialists everywhere to now broaden their horizons.

The Labour Party is now a force for reaction, and it must be treated as such. It must be defeated politically. It should face challenge everywhere it runs candidates in the country. A corrupt Blairite club must never, and will never, again rule Britain.


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Comments (9)

  • Dave says:

    While I agree with most of Ammar Kazmi says, you may get into trouble for including his concluding remarks:

    “The Labour Party is now a force for reaction, and it must be treated as such. It must be defeated politically. It should face challenge everywhere it runs candidates in the country. A corrupt Blairite club must never, and will never, again rule Britain.”

    JVL says. WE have a general disclaimer on our site. It reads as follows:

    We repost a wide range of materials on this site, to provide information and to encourage discussion and debate. We do not necessarily endorse the opinions expressed in these materials.

    Articles posted as JVL statements are, of course, fully endorsed by JVL.

  • Doug says:

    Is the JC case relevant to this decision
    On the issue of costs they can be challenged, its not a winner takes all scenario, how much responsibility does the party have for not dealing with members complaints about their treatment
    Finally there is the class action, Mark Howell who needs our financial support
    Not being that clever helps at times like this, completely flobbergusted

  • harry law says:

    I agree with the conclusions of Ammar Kazmi, this Labour party led by Starmer must be opposed by all fair minded people, because it is fundamentally unfair, autocratic, racist and its leader is a “Zionist without qualification”, in other words Israel’s designation as an Apartheid state by B’Tselem, Human Rights Watch and the UN panel led by Richard Falk are of no concern to the Labour leadership.

  • fully endorse what “James ” has said the Labour Party has become exactly as he has said.

  • John Bowley says:

    Keir Starmer’s Labour Party is, in my observation, now very distanced from past values of decency, honesty and fairness. It is now highly hypocritical. The Labour Party under Starmer gives us the cant that its persecutions are to ensure that Jewish people feel safe and welcome. One of those unfairly disciplined by the Labour Party, as featured in this case, is Jewish and over eighty years old, I believe. This fine British Jewish lady, whose account I read elsewhere, has, I gather, been implausibly accused of Anti-Semitism by a now politically Zionist Labour Party on behalf of the racist state of Israel.

    I have an opinion also about Ammar Kazmi, who I think is brilliant, a superb writer of fact and also a measured and persuasive speaker. I am so glad that Ammar Kazmi is on our side in these dark times of oppression by bad guys within the party we have loyally supported. And thank you again our JVL.

  • John Thatcher says:

    What it demonstrates to me, is that the courts in the UK are incapable of delivering justice where the people are ranged against “the establishment”. Assange, Murray and Williamson show, is that there is no justice to be found in the UK judicial system. We already know that is true of the Labour party, which has become a stench in the nostrils of all decent people who are aware of its activities. I feel nothing but contempt for both.

  • Alan Maddison says:

    Why is the Labour hierarchy and some staffers knowingly treating so many decent members in this appalling way?

    Initially it seemed Jennie Formby was prepared to throw hundreds of supporters of Palestinian equal rights under the bus in order to reduce the relentless attacks in the media by certain Zionist groups, and help Labour into power to protect millions of our most vulnerable.

    Under Starmer/Evans, this continues apace, but driven by Blair/ Mandelson , the weaponising of complaints to destroy the left has been accelerated. Party democracy and free speech have been attacked too. It no longer seems to be about winning elections.

    The same Labour hierarchy is seemingly cultivating racism and Islamophobia, alienating ethnic minorities who provide 20% of its vote, and trampling on the fundamental values Labour once represented.

    The question I ask is how many of the PLP support such a despicable and destructive strategy, and how do we achieve the necessary regime change?

    Only then can we hope that members, left-wingers, supporters of human rights for Palestinians, ethnic minority members and voters will be treated with the respect they deserve.

    We must put this shameful episode behind us, urgently.

  • Pete Firmin says:

    You may have a general disclaimer on the site, but that does not stop you often adding, in your introduction to a specific post, that you disagree with certain aspects. So I was surprised you didn’t do so in relation to the conclusion of Ammar Kazmi’s piece. I would have assumed JVL’s disagreement with that is far greater than with many other posts where you have made dissenting comments.

  • Naomi Wayne says:

    Re Ammar Kazmi’s final para, I dont KNOW what people should do next about the Labour Party – and as a non member (after several miserable years membership in the 1990s) I feel diffident about commenting – except I do think a strong and confident LP should be able to cope with any amount of criticism, both internal and external! Bit the thing about the LP is that every attempt to date to create a left alternative has failed, and there is nothing to indicate that LP voters are ready, or desirous, to switch elsewhere (except, perhaps, to the Greens). And AK makes no suggestions as to where people should go, nor why – which would enable us to evaluate the quality of his critique.

    Which gives me the encouragement to say – it seems to me that the two most important thing unhappy LP members can do now is a) some serious work considering the way the political landscape has shifted, and why Labour is losing in traditional areas. And I dont mean knee-jerk rage about the right wing media or Scottish Nat opportunism – but really serious thinking, discussion, blogging, debating etc etc. And b) take up the campaign for PR. Wrest it from the Lib Dems and make it into a truly democratic campaign that everyone who is a smidgen numerate will be able to understand. Especially now that the old (outrageous) reliance on Scottish Labour has gone with Labour’s lost Scottish MPs, something that can shake up the political landscape in England is desperately needed.

    Fighting for PR within Labour will mean far more to more LP members – than the tragic, and to many, very esoteric antisemitism battles – and has the possibility of placing the left on the side of democracy in a way that most will understand and many will support.

    Anyway, this is a positive alternative to throwing in the towel. . . .

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