The first hearing of Gerard Coyne‘s complaint against his former employer, union Unite, took place today on Euston Road in London. The SKWAWKBOX exclusively brought its readers the details of Coyne’s ten points of complaint relating to his unsuccessful bid to oust incumbent Len McCluskey and analysed the weakness of each.
In order to bring readers first-hand information from proceedings – the initial ‘directions’ meeting to decide what each side must do and disclose – the SKWAWKBOX attended the hearing in person.
It was an eye-opener – and according to a source close to the Unite case, “round one [went] to Unite“.
Coyne, naturally, is claiming otherwise, clinging to the suggestion by Jeffrey Burke QC, the retired judge presiding over the hearing – agreed by all sides with no dispute – that the first point to examine in the case is the matter of whether Unite correctly called the election in the first place:
This is ‘thin gruel’ for Coyne. If Burke upholds the complaint, last year’s election for General Secretary of Unite will be rerun – but it’s not a foregone conclusion that he’d be allowed to run in it, having been dismissed from the union for gross misconduct over breaches of data already upheld by the Election Commissioner and Returning Officer.
However, the order in which the points of complaint would be considered was a minor sideshow. The main issue of the day was the matter of ‘disclosure’ – and the order in which that would be done.
Unite was asking for ‘sequential‘ disclosure, meaning that Coyne as complainant would have to provide all the evidence his team intends to bring to support its case and then Unite would respond.
Coyne asked for simultaneous disclosure, meaning both sides would have to disclose at the same time.
Burke confirmed that disclosure would be sequential.
The SKWAWKBOX’s Unite source explained the significance of the decision:
Coyne has been claiming to have evidence to support his complaints against the union, but has never produced any. He has none.
So he was hoping for a big disclosure order against the union. He needed it to be simultaneous so he could continue to hide his lack of evidence and hope to find something useful in the union’s disclosure – because we wouldn’t know what we needed to answer.
Now it’s decided and the result is simple – he must put up first and then we answer – the ‘fishing expedition’ comes to an end. Round one to Unite.
‘The emails we don’t have’
This view is borne out by the considerable lengths Coyne’s QC went to in order to argue against Unite’s request to Burke that the disclosure must include emails – if they have any.
The heart of one of Coyne’s main claims is his allegation that Unite employees used union resources and time – banned under the union’s election rules – to campaign for McCluskey. Unite argued, understandably, that for them to respond to the claim this happened, they needed to see any emails Coyne’s team had.
Coyne’s legal team tried to argue that the existence of any such emails was unnecessary detail and not a vital issue – before eventually indirectly admitting that they have none, by advising Burke that they would be bringing a witness or witnesses who would say they had received such an email but had ‘deleted’ it and could not produce it.
So they’ll have some people willing to say they received something but unable to prove it – hardly compelling evidence. If someone asked you when you received an email you deleted months ago, could you say a date and time without being able to look at the time-stamp?
And the date and time of emails or tweets is absolutely crucial to the issue of whether they were sent legitimately or not – since Unite employees are perfectly entitled to campaign for a candidate on their own time and equipment.
Oliver Segal, QC for Unite, also claimed that Coyne’s team had been emailing supporters, asking whether anyone could provide them with any evidence – and suggested that this meant that they had no meaningful evidence of wrongdoing by Unite and wanted to buy time to try to find something.
The previous investigations
Further bad news for Coyne came in the form of a decision by Jeffrey Burke regarding the results of previous investigations into the same claims.
As the SKWAWKBOX has previously pointed out, complaints by Coyne were investigated by the Election Commissioner (EC) – who not only found no evidence of wrongdoing by Unite or McCluskey but decided that there was evidence of breach of rules and possibly of law by Coyne and his campaign.
For obvious reasons, Coyne argued that Burke should disregard the EC’s report. While making clear that he would did not consider himself bound by the earlier findings and would not necessarily be persuaded by them, Burke eventually decided that he would read and consider them.
Today’s proceedings were basically the preliminary sparring and the main bout will extend at least up to a week-long hearing scheduled for the last week of June – but for all Coyne’s claims to the contrary, it seems clear that ’round one’ went to Unite in more than one way.
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