The Party’s disciplinary process – Cambridge CLP Resolution

Cambridge Constituency Labour Party has been concerned about the inadequacies of Labour’s disciplinary processes for some time now.

A resolution, passed by the CLP and reproduced below, identifies problems with existing arrangements and calls on the National Executive Committee (NEC) to implement all aspects of Shami Chakrabarti’s recommendations to improve the Party’ disciplinary process which, it points out, were made more than three years ago.

For a fourth time the Cambridge CLP has felt it necessary to urge the National Executive Committee (NEC) to implement all aspects of Shami Chakrabarti’s recommendations to improve the Party’ disciplinary process made more than three years ago. A copy of the resolution and its supporting statement are reprinted here.

The letter conveying the resolution to Jennie Formby said:

“There is considerable concern in our CLP that despite progress made since your appointment, three and a half years on from their adoption by the Party, key elements of Shami Chakrabarti’s recommendations are yet to be implemented, as listed in the attached supporting statement. Their implementation is essential to full achievement of the right to a fair hearing without bias – natural justice – which Shami Chakrabarti’s recommendations are intended to deliver.

In the CLP’s debate it was noted that the Party is committed to “work for A JUST SOCIETY … which delivers people from the tyranny of … the abuse of power.” [Clause IV] A key test of our achievement of this is how we collectively treat our Party members and those who complain against us. While progress has been made, we do not believe the Party is living up to this test. Indeed, we believe the Party is at risk of going backwards rather than forwards, as a result of the potentially oppressive fast track procedure voted through against the collective wishes of the Party’s CLPs at last year’s Annual Conference.”

As the resolution’s supporting statement sets out, the balance between progress made and not made does not flatter us. Cases are dealt with more quickly and in-house legal advice has been built in. But the long list of what has not been done is chastening. And the “fast track” procedure now allows the NEC to expel as well as suspend members summarily – supposedly in “exceptional circumstances” – which are not specified in the Party Rule change. There is a right of appeal to the National Constitution Committee – but this is after the event, after a member is no longer able to stand for Parliament or in a council election.

When proposing adoption of the resolution to Cambridge CLP, I asked “Is this the collective performance we expect of our Party”, and answered “No, it is not. We need to do much better.” There is a real risk of the Party being seen to be investigator, prosecutor, judge and jury – all rolled into one. An adjudication process free of the Party’s executive, which makes all of the important decisions affecting members and complainants, is vital. Without it, we cannot hold our heads up and say with confidence that the fair hearing without bias fundamental to Shami Chakrabarti’s recommendations is being achieved.

A reply has been received from the General Secretary’s office saying that our resolution “will be provided to the NEC’s Organisation Committee for their consideration.” Does this mean action will be taken to get on with it, or is it the equivalent of the long grass? We shall see.

David Plank
18th February 2020


Cambridge Constituency and City Labour Party

RESOLUTION 17th January 2020

The Party’s disciplinary process

This CLP, while noting that significant progress has been made since the General Secretary’s appointment in 2018, also notes that major provisions to ensure the full right to a fair hearing without bias in the Party’s disciplinary process are not yet implemented – three years on from their endorsement by the Party. Accordingly, this CLP URGES the National Executive Committee and the General Secretary to ensure that all elements of “The New End to End Process” and related provisions for the Party’s complaints and disciplinary processes recommended in Shami Chakrabarti’s Inquiry Report and endorsed by the Party in 2016, are fully implemented forthwith.

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This CLP NOTES that significant progress has been made on some of the recommendations of Shami Chakrabarti’s Inquiry Report following the General Secretary’s appointment in 2018. In February this year, Jennie Formby reported a number of improvements, including: appointment of an in-house counsel to advise on all relevant matters; the number of staff dealing with disciplinary cases and investigations had more than doubled; the size of the Party’s National Constitution Committee had also been doubled to enable swifter adjudication; all serious complaints are being dealt with nationally to ensure consistency; high priority cases are being fast-tracked through the use of smaller disputes panels able to meet more frequently, each of them advised by an independent barrister; and education and training are not to be imposed as a sanction, but can be offered where a member had apologised for their conduct and agreed that this might benefit them.

In addition, it appears from the figures relating to allegations of antisemitism released by the Party in February that, in line with the Chakrabarti recommendation, where complaints are substantiated, a range of sanctions – from reminders of conduct and formal warnings to outright expulsion – have been imposed in proportion to the severity of the case.

However, this CLP also NOTES that key elements of the improved disciplinary process adopted by the Party on Shami Chakrabarti’s recommendation three years ago, including “The New End to End Process”, are not yet implemented – thus continuing to deny the full right to a fair hearing without bias (natural justice) to members who complain and those whose conduct they complain against. In particular, the following have not been implemented at all or in part only:

  • Right to know what the complaint is and who has made it (step 3 of the New End to End Process): “Unless there are particular reasons for not so doing, the member would be given notice of the fact and nature of the investigation into him or her and the identity of the complainant.” Not implemented. As a matter of basic fairness in an investigation, it is essential for members to know what has been alleged against them and by whom; they still do not, which places them at a considerable disadvantage
  • Application to the National Constitution Committee (NCC) for interim suspension (steps 4 & 5): “I recommend that the power of interim suspension no longer be vested in the NEC”, “… if the relevant staff member (having consulted General Counsel to the Labour Party) is of the view that interim suspension is required, an urgent application (including the compelling reasons for such emergency relief) is made to the NCC. The NCC (if necessary, taking the advice of its legal panel) decides on any application for emergency suspension (with or without publicity).” Not implemented: suspensions are being decided by the NEC on the recommendation of its Disputes Panel, not independently by the NCC. Such decisions should be made by the Party’s adjudicatory body, the NCC, not by the NEC, which, as the Party’s executive body, has a conflict of interest, given its responsibility for the investigation and “prosecution” of complaints
  • Right of review or appeal (step 9): “Where the NCC imposes a suspension or exclusion, the individual is to have the right of review on procedural and proportionality grounds, such review to be determined by the Legal Panel, which if it considers any such grounds to have been made out, will remit the matter to the NCC for a fresh determination …” Not implemented. As in the courts, the right of appeal is fundamental to ensuring the disciplinary process is fair and without bias. Suspension and exclusion are severe sanctions – this right is crucial to their fair adjudication
  • Time limits: “I recommend that the entire process (steps 1 to 9) … be subject to appropriate time limits governing each stage of the disciplinary process.” Not implemented. Members remain at risk of lengthy proceedings without apparent end
  • Rule changes (recommendation 8): “I recommend procedural rule changes (a draft is annexed to this Report) to improve the Party’s disciplinary process (as well as a wider review of the relevant provisions of the rules and procedural guidelines in the light of those recommendations) ….” Not implemented. The fundamental protection for complainants and those whose conduct is complained against, which amended Rules would provide, is still not in place. A review commissioned by the NEC has been underway for some long time; its terms of reference and target date for reporting are not known
  • Complaints procedure: “I recommend the drawing up, and adoption of, a readily accessible complaints procedure explaining with sufficiently clarity how and to whom complaints are to be made….” Not implemented. Uncertainty remains about how to complain and who to. The Party’s arcane and unfair procedure under its Rules on the investigation of complaints to CLPs are unamended
  • Time limits on the bringing of disciplinary charges: “I … recommend time limits on the bringing of disciplinary charges.” Not implemented. Chakrabarti recommended “a period of no more than two years” “on the bringing of formal disciplinary proceedings in relation to … “uncomradely conduct and language” “(as opposed to other disciplinary matters relating to e.g. Criminal or Electoral law)”. As they stand, the Party’s Rules allow trawls of conduct without limit of time

[The Shami Chakrabarti Inquiry Report, June 2016, pages 16, 20, 21, 27 & 28]

 

 

Comments (1)

  • jenny Mahimbo says:

    Labour International GC considered an emergency motion in support of Jo Bird. An emergency motion that went to the GC but that day she was reinstated. So it has gone back for a rewrite around the need to revamp the disciplinary procedures. We have a meeting to do that tomorrow and we will look at the Cambridge motion.

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