Starmer must stop overseeing abuses of human rights

There is a new wave of investigations into, and administrative suspensions of, alleged antisemites in the Labour Party, emanating from its Governance and Legal Unit; many of them aimed at Jewish members of the Party.

The terms of these investigations are disturbing, involving anonymity of the complainants, anonymity of the investigating officers, and an attempt to prevent anyone so investigated from letting anyone else know any details of the charges even though “at no time during an investigation does the Labour Party confer an assumption of guilt on any party”.

Despite the stated absence of any “assumption of guilt” these investigations consist in asking the person accused such things as “What is your response to the allegation that these comments undermine Labour’s ability to campaign against any form of racism?”– that is accusatory in anybody’s language.

Mike Cushman looks here at the breach of human rights implied by the imposition of a duty of confidentiality imposed on those under investigation.

Keir Starmer – winner of the Justice/Liberty human rights lawyer of the year award, 2000. Photo: c.2005

The Labour Party is now headed by a distinguished Human Rights lawyer. It would be helpful if he directed his attention to some of the processes of the Party.

The stream of members receiving letters giving the notice of administrative suspension or Notices of Investigation are told:

We must therefore ask you to ensure that you keep all information and correspondence relating to this investigation private, and that you do not share it with third parties or the media (including social media). That includes any information you receive from the Party identifying the name of the person who has made a complaint about you, any witnesses, the allegations against you, and the names of Party staff dealing with the matter. If you fail to do so, the Party reserves the right to take action to protect confidentiality, and you may be liable to disciplinary action for breach of the Party’s rules.

The constraints this places upon subjects of disciplinary process are oppressive and contrary to their entitlement to free expression under Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights as incorporated into the Human Rights Act 1998.

Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers.

As most letters contains neither the name of any complainant; nor the names of any witnesses; nor the name of any member of the Party staff it would be impossible publicise these in any case. Being investigated in a sea of anonymity is, itself, of considerable concern. The names of complainants and witnesses may be withheld in cases where there may be a justified fear of retaliatory harassment. Does the Party suspect the recipients of these letters are likely to engage in such behaviour, and if so what grounds does the Party have for such a belief? Any burdensome requirements must be applied to individual, carefully considered instances; not rolled out wholesale.

The letters claim:

The Labour Party’s investigation process operates confidentially. That is vital to ensure fairness to you and the complainant, and to protect the rights of all concerned under the Data Protection Act 2018.

The Party fails to explain how the person receiving such a notice has their rights protected by a duty of confidentiality imposed on them. Perhaps because they would be totally unable to

In the past these letters were signed by a member of the Governance and Legal Unit. Now they are not signed by any named individual they end: “Yours sincerely, The Governance and Legal Unit, The Labour Party”. In many years of handling trade union casework, I have never encountered the names of staff dealing with a case being kept secret.

Not being able to discuss the nature of the allegations is a fundamental attack on political liberty. The Labour Party as a political organisation should be a locus for political debate so we can all learn; the allegations made are a political act and free debate of them would enable the accused member and others to explore the issues raised; learn from them and, if appropriate modify their behaviour; and/or attempt to convince others of the validity of their analysis. It is absurd for the Party to seek to inhibit such a process of political education and is damaging to the development of the Party to combat antisemitism, racism and other forms of discrimination.

There is a further and disturbing element. The instruction as printed suggests that accused members are not even entitled to share their documents with an advisor or lawyer or family member and that they are required to prepare their response to a potentially life changing letter unaided. JVL knows that members can, in fact, seek assistance and share their documents for that purpose. Not all members will know that and the standard letter conceals this important information. This cannot be accidental as the standard letters have obviously be drawn up with some considerable care. Care is not shown to members targeted by these letters who will feel isolated and threatened. Withholding this vital information is more than harassment it is abuse of a malicious order. As investigations are a quasi-legal procedure we should expect they meet the minimum requirements of a right to a fair trial under article 6 (3) c of the EHCR: “to defend himself in person or through legal assistance of his own choosing”. Further, the short time scales for response to complex, and frequently ill-framed, allegations are at variance with article 6 (3) b: “to have adequate time and facilities for the preparation of his defence”.

The Party does not have unfettered discretion on how to deal with members. There is clear case law that states there is an implied duty of fairness and natural justice in handling disciplinary processes. The Court of Appeal recently ruled against the Party stating, “discretion conferred on a party under a contract is subject to control which limits the discretion as a matter of necessary implication by concepts of honesty, good faith and genuineness, and need for absence of arbitrariness, capriciousness, perversity and irrationality.” The prohibition on members disclosing the allegations made about them is a clear breach of this obligation.

The standard letter recognises that the Party’s heavy-handed approach puts the mental health of its members at risk and may even lead some to contemplate suicide. It invites them to consult their GP or the Samaritans. It is hypocritical of the party to pretend such care. It is hard to conceive that it has met its duty of care by seeking to ameliorate the negative effects of its actions; it would fulfil its duty only by not engaging in abusive behaviour in the first place.

Keir Starmer must require the Party to reconsider urgently these blanket restrictions which are contrary to the spirit of the Chakrabarti report on how best to make progress on such issues. They are also contrary to any spirit of human decency and natural justice.

Failure to bring the Party into line even with minimally acceptable practice will demonstrate that he is keen to pursue the abuses committed by others but content to draw a veil over those he is responsible for.

Comments (25)

  • RC says:

    This is excellent as far as it goes. But appealing to the admitted virtues of the leader has the serious drawback of accentuating the pernicious monarchist cult of the leadership principle, which is anti socialist and antidemocratic. These virtues should be put at the disposal of the democratic organs of the party, notably the NEC, whose responsibility includes the operation of the so-called GLU, whose persecutory activities plainly operate according to an agenda deriving from the foreign policy interests of US imperialism and its British poodle in supporting Israel as their attack-dog against any Arab regime that does not obey its masters. Repression of the Palestinians is a core symbol of the US policy offensive. From the systematic murder of hundreds and maiming of thousands of unarmed demonstrators in Gaza, the celebration of which started the brouhaha against alleged antisemitism, to the boasted annexation of almost all of the West Bank, the imperialist offensive operates on several fronts. Michael Sells of Chicago U has identified a campaign across the US to label Palestinians and most Arabs as Nazis (what happened to Chakrabarty’s advice in that regard?). These fanatics will not stop until all support for Palestinians and their rights is driven out of the LP through this totalitarian process. The ten commitments to the BoD and the IHRA ‘definition’ of antisemitism must be repudiated en masse.

  • Carel Buxton says:

    The Labour Party must not just say it is the party of justice and fairness but must demonstrate that it is. Suspension prior to investigation and then stopping those suspended from discussing their cases is against natural justice and as a LP member this causes me concern. I think that the membership want better that this and that the leadership is not demonstrating its commitment to justice and fairness in the way it is handling the issue of the ‘leaked document’ for example. The idea of one rule for us and another for them will damage Labour in the eyes of the public. We are living is a time where events are unfolding extraordinarily quickly and the LP must continue to be relevant.

    [JVL ed – many of the cases described are not ones of suspension – merely Notices of Investigation, with supposedly no presumption of guilt and no cessation of your rights as a full Party member. Except a shadow hangs over you, you are not allowed even to mention it to anyone, or so it appears… And, anticipating your possible distress at being told you’ve done something that may (or may not) be unacceptable but not having any explanation of what it might be,the Party kindly refers you to the Samaritans…]

  • John Dunn says:

    Surely, collectively we should challenge Starmer and launch a legal action against these letters.

  • Naomi Wayne says:

    As well as the extraordinary ‘confidentiality’ demand, and the secrecy surrounding the complaints process and the identity of the complainant, the entire investigatory process is flawed. In particular, he GLU don’t seem to understand what ‘evidence’ of wrongdoing consists of. Thus, those accused of posting on social media such that they ‘may be in breach’ of party rules, are provided by the GLU with copies of the rules, plus copies of the supposedly ‘offending’ SM postings. Nowhere are they given any explanation as to how the GLU thinks they ‘may’ have broken the rules. The GLU doesn’t say – here is the rule, here the posting we are concerned about, and here the reasons we think you have broken the rule by making the posting. In fact, the reverse.

    By asking a set of questions which can only be regarded as a crude fishing expedition, the GLU is, in fact, relying on THE PERSON BEING INVESTIGATED to construct its case! Thus, members being investigated are being asked: to explain their reasons for making the specified postings; to provide a ‘response to the allegation’ that postings ‘may be or have been in breach of specified rules’; to tell the GLU if they ‘regret’ such postings. Both lazy and outrageous. People being investigated should respond by asking the GLU to make out its case first and demonstrate where the alleged breaches are.

  • Jan Brooker says:

    I ignored the confidentiality requirement, on the basis that they are using *my* data. The ICO states that: “your data is your data. It belongs to you so it’s important your data is used only in ways you would reasonably expect, and that it stays safe. Data protection law makes sure everyone’s data is used properly and legally.”
    I wrote back: “It was not my intention, and I do not believe that you could possibly believe that I ‘would reasonably expect’, that my data would be used in this way. My contention is that you are acting outside of the legislation concerning my expectation that my ‘data is used properly and legally’.
    If I had the resouces I’d be sending Solicitor’s letters. My SAR was incomplete; within the month that they had to respond to my extra SAR information request [or give a time they would reply by]; they have not even acknowledged that they had received my letter, and still have not replied to my reminder a month later.
    Their attitude is appaling, and WORSE than firms of Bailiffs that I have had to deal with, who at least have the common courtesy to respond.
    We need a collective response to their appalling ignorance. Someone could do with organising a Crowdfunder for such a challenge.
    TOO MANY OTHER WORDS ….. grrrr

  • Sean O’Donoghue says:

    I was “administratively suspended” last September. My later of suspension requested i not share my suspension with anyone. I wrote to ask what exactly that meant…i had to explain it to my Branch, of which I was Chair and to my CLP, as i was on the Exec but was banned from attending meetings. I wrote to Liberty about this dreadful abuse of civil liberties…got a response about 5 months later, asking to resubmit my complaint. Haven’t heard back fro them.

  • Max Joseph joshua cook says:

    I have been under investigation for a year now and I have not received any response from the party, I am NOT an anti-Semite as anyone who looks through my Facebook will see.
    If I remember rightly they had 17+ accusations against me by who of course I will NEVER know, I have good friends in the party and outside of it and they all would tell you that these allegations are FALSE.

  • Mark says:

    I’m busy preparing my response to one of these letters as I type. I fully intend to share them as they aren’t even particularly controversial. I’ll happily give you an example though because along with many other Leftists I once tweeted ‘Israel Is a racist endeavour’ in response to a post re Israeli segregation.

  • John Bernard says:

    Shared to LAW members page. It is just apalling that this is still going on and appears ironically to have ratcheted up since Starmer became leader. We learn this week that Starmer will be giving the Board of Deputies an update on a number of cases they are concerned about. This is a disturbing development in both Data Protection and Governance terms – does the Board of Deputies now run the GLU?? An interesting case is Professor David Miller of Bristol University who runs an interesting organisation called Spinwatch http://spinwatch.org/. This is apparently not because of the usual hackneyed excuse of anti-semitism – the charge is unknown but doubtless to do with Professor Miller’s concerns about the plight of the Palestinians and Islamaphobia. Probably not the smartest move by the GLU. Finally the human rights issues aside, it is a matter of concern that so much resource is being put into the expanded GLU function in monetary terms and that will include legal fees spent defending indefensible cases when members bite back – not the greatest use of party funds.

  • anonymous says:

    This is Orwellian

  • Edward Hill says:

    Perhaps it is appropriate that those members of the Labour Party who seek to highlight the denial of human rights to Palestinians are themselves subjected to unjust treatment?

  • David says:

    I am horrified.

    It seems to me that Labour now has its own ‘Stasi’. I’m not at all sure that I wish to remain a part of such a Party.

  • Kim Chenoweth says:

    Dear JVL,
    My sincere thanks to Mike Cushman. Please continue this excellent ‘speaking truth to power’.
    [The whole damn thing stinks…]

  • Nick says:

    Keir Starmer is hardly a ‘distinguished human rights lawyer’ after his conduct as CPS leader in the case of Julian Assange.

  • Ikhlaq says:

    My party is going to wall to stop people from showing unfairness to Palestinian.
    My sympathies always lies with people who are on the receiving end of hardships, regardless of colour, religion or sexuality and I shall continue to be as supportive of the above as I can.

  • RH says:

    As already said – if Keir Starmer is a ‘distinguished human rights lawyer’, he cannot fail to understand the travesty of the principles of natural justice embodied in the laughable (dry, ironic laugh) processes of this unit.

    In establishing a proposition, it is accepted that you test the ‘null hypothesis’ – i.e that failing convincing evidence to the contrary (in terms of probability), the opposite of the original hypothesis stands. Simply, in relation to this situation – if you cannot provide tangible and measurable evidence, your case is unproven.

    By this standard, no case can ever be established against a member of the Party in this system.

    Which, in terms of combating actual racism is about as much use as a chocolate fireguard. The evidence-free methodology (hidden evidence is no evidence) is thus purely a political weapon, free from accountability and transparency, and open to the manipulation that we have all seen. It can be no other.

    So ‘What does that say about the integrity of Keir Starmer ?’ is the question he has to face if this farce continues unchallenged

  • Brian Borrett says:

    Any investigation should involve the matter of people and anti semitism and not religion ie Jews Christians or Muslims. The term antisemitism needs to be redefined so it can be used in an honest way, it certainly isn’t at the moment

  • katy samuels says:

    If nothing else, it is very scary!!! credit to Mike Cushman for speaking out.

  • jim gault says:

    As a labour party member I find it hard to believe that this is happening and that people are taking it seriously. How can an anonymous person suspend a member of the party?
    To criticise the actions of the Israeli government is not antisemitic.
    Members who receive these letters should ignore them until they are signed and the writers identity is acknowledged.
    Meanwhile, the urge to leave a party which allows this to proceed should be resisted. It looks very much as if that is exactly what they are trying to achieve.
    I look forward to hearing what Mr Starmer has to say about this……

  • John Bowley says:

    This is an excellent article about a disturbing aspect of the Labour Party. Thank you very much, Mike.

    Along with others, I wrote to the Party leadership contenders asking for less oppressive and fairer disciplinary procedures.

    Our Party Leader should now be putting his efforts into exposing the pernicious Johnson government. He has plenty to be involved in here.

  • Anthony Baldwin says:

    The answer seems to be that which Jan Brooker has proposed: not so much the Crowd Funder but the response about Data being used or rather misused.
    When Tony Greenstein was about to win in Court he didn’t because the Judge said that his abusers were merely using the right to express their opinion which was supported by their right to Freedom of Speech.
    Given that piece of Case Law I would have a thought a reference to it would be sufficient for the Party to realise that they were onto a loser.
    The other case would be that of Chris Williamson who has said that he is prepared to support others suing the Party for vindictive administration in the name of the Zionist cause.

  • As a founder member of LAW I have helped draft a number of responses to these letters. People may find useful a draft response minus individual details.

    You can find it on
    https://drive.google.com/file/d/1FQehodo9LkD2av2gCeGZ03NPPuHaUOmc/view?usp=sharing

    There are two things, well a number of things, which stand out.

    The letters from the GLU to their victims reverse the burden of proof. They are asking the victims to prove that they are innocent instead of the GLU having to prove your guilt. I suggest that instead of responding to answers people simply reverse the questions and ask:

    ‘Why do you think X or Y is anti-Semitic or whatever.’

    Demand the revelation of the identity of the accuser. Especially since one half of all accusations come from 1 person. It is clear that this one person is a cipher acting for other, state, actors.

    When the fast track expulsions were motivated, we were assured they would only be used in a minority of egregious cases. In fact they are being used in virtually every case.

    The result of having Corbyn as leader is that the most vicious witch hunt ever is now taking place. And yes it is directly the work of Corbyn/Formby

  • Ruth Appleton says:

    I couldnt agree more about the abusive attitude of the witch hunt in the LP. We should immediately publicise this and demand consultation re amending the system used by the Disputes Unit. Its shameful and belies the deceit involved in the picking off of Socialists for expulsion.

  • Ben Steele says:

    Congratulations for bringing these attacks into the public domain and shining a bright light on them. That said, I’d like JVL to go further. There are numerous questions raised by this:
    Mike refers to a ‘new wave’ of attacks. How many suspensions/investigations were initiated last week as part of this renewed purge under Starmer? Can those who were suspended be encouraged to contact JVL so that a sense of the scale of this be achieved?
    What was the role of key pro-Israel groups (eg BOD, JLM, LAAS, CAA) in identifying those party members who were targeted?
    How many of the ‘charges’ invoked the IHRA ‘working’ definition, explicitly or implicitly?
    How many of the targeted members are known pro-Palestine activists?
    How many of the targeted members were known as active Corbyn supporters?

  • Mollie Collins says:

    When you receive this legally written notice of suspension you suffer shock and fear at the threat implied. At the time of receiving mine I was working around 25/30 hours a week as a Regional Board Member and Chair of a CLP. I had goals to work towards more grassroots involvement of members but initially was paralysed with fear. Now realise the no membership is worth this suffering. It paralysed ones ability to defend oneself. It is cruel and unreasonable.

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