Formby’s likely roadmap for fixing Labour’s disciplinary process

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One of the most misleading aspects of recent uproars about the Labour Party is frustration – on the part of those making complaints and the subjects of complaints alike – about the way complaints have been handled.

Those accused have often found themselves suspended, without details of the accusations against them, for as long as two years, while at the other extreme some members have been suspended or expelled in what appears to be an almost summary fashion.

One example of the latter is Jewish member Glyn Secker, who was recently suspended – by now-departed General Secretary Iain McNicol, not by Labour’s NEC (National Executive Committe) disciplinary panel – and then reinstated, without apology, just five days later.

Some critics have attempted to use this unsatisfactory situation to attack Jeremy Corbyn personally – and this has led to accusations that the Labour right is cynically exploiting an important issue for factional purposes.

The reality is that Jeremy Corbyn, under Labour rules, has no responsibility for disciplinary issues among members. The administration of disciplinary issues was the responsibility of the (then) right-dominated Labour HQ.

Now new General Secretary Jennie Formby, who formally starts in the role next week, will be the one responsible for reviewing and improving all aspects of Labour’s disciplinary procedures, including the handling of antisemitism and harassment allegations.

Below are the first steps she is likely to take.

The review

Three weeks ago, the ‘Disputes Panel’ of Labour’s NEC confirmed its decision to conduct an urgent review of all the processes and procedures relating to antisemitism claims.

The key aim of this review is to ensure Labour’s processes are quick and fair, so that complainants and those accused can see their case dealt with promptly and rely on a just outcome.

It will also be transparent, so that those accused know properly what they are accused of and have a chance to defend themselves adequately and in accordance with principles of natural justice.

Training

Complaints abounded under McNicol of a lack of consistency and sense in the way complaints were investigated and adjudicated – and these came to a head earlier this month when Disputes Panel chair Christine Shawcroft erupted after union representatives on the panel abstained in disciplinary votes because of alleged inadequacies in the investigative reports presented to the panel.

Ms Formby and the panel will mandate measures to ensure that all staff dealing with complaints are properly trained. Until now, such training has been limited to staff dealing with sexual harassment cases.

The NCC

While not yet confirmed, the SKWAWKBOX understands that an urgent review is likely of all outstanding cases currently with Labour’s National Constitutional Committee (NCC), to assess the appropriateness of their handling and map out the steps needed to resolve them promptly.

Chakrabarti

The 2016 ‘Chakrabarti report’ into the Labour Party’s disciplinary rules and procedures, particularly with regard to religious or racial abuse including antisemitism, made a series of recommendations for rule and procedural changes.

In the almost two years since the report was published, Labour’s previous HQ regime implemented almost none of these. A change to the rule on behaviour was approved at last September’s Conference, but little else has changed – to the detriment of the party and its reputation.

Implementing the full recommendations of the report will be at or very near the top of Jennie Formby’s priorities.

The full list of recommendations can be found here, but a few of the key changes expected to be implemented as quickly as possible include:

  • the introduction of a General Counsel position – previous heads of legal and compliance have, remarkably, rarely if ever been legally qualified
  • recognition that the rules must be applied according to the principles of natural justice
  • a limitation period of two years for a complaint to be made – no more dredging up of years-old issues to use against members
  • a time-limit for accusations to be dealt with
  • the right of the accused to details of an accusation and the identity of the accuser, barring an overriding reason to withhold the information
  • the removal from unelected officers and from the NEC of the right to impose ‘administrative’ or ‘interim’ suspension, with its transfer to the NCC under a ‘presumption against‘ interim suspension unless there is an overriding reason for it
  • a time-limit of six months on any suspension of a branch or constituency party – some CLPs have been in ‘special measures for as long as twenty-five years under the previous regime
  • the establishment of a qualified NCC Legal Panel, with a member of the Legal Panel to be allocated to each disciplinary case referred to the NCC

  • the attendance at all disciplinary hearings of a member of the Legal Panel.

  • a right of review, on procedural and proportionality grounds, for all members suspended or expelled

Shami Chakrabarti has since been unjustly criticised for her report – which was broadly welcomed by all groups when it was published. But in reality, it is the failure of the previous regime to implement the recommendations of the report which has led to many of the recent problems and frustrations, whether that be among those accused or punished, or on the part of those dissatisfied with the pursuit of issues they have raised.

Ms Formby’s determination to get to grips with the inadequacies of existing rules and processes – which have been frankly unfit for purpose – and to implement changes that should have been made two years ago will be for the good of the Labour party, its members and those who interact with it.

It should be welcomed by everyone who genuinely has the best interests of the party and its members at heart.

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28 responses to “Formby’s likely roadmap for fixing Labour’s disciplinary process

  1. Excellent news.

    This implementation of transparency, due process and natural justice to the process will prevent vexatious complainants and false accusers from operating freely, as they were able to do under Iain McNicol’s underhand stewardship.

  2. A right of representation should also be created. Members who cannot afford a lawyer should be able to nominate a representative to appear for them at any hearing. It is important there be a basic equality of arms for any member who is charged.

      • It is not in the Chakrabarti report. There is recommendation for a member to be allowed representation by a lawyer so that is the same as currently. There is not a requirement for representation for a member in an oral hearing by any nominated advocate.

  3. I can’t wait for all of that to be implemented. The rules have been abused by too many for too long.

  4. There is a wealth of expertise and experience of disciplinary processes and procedures within our membership.
    Many of us have been members of review panels for public services.
    We know the business because managing discipline (note the word comes from disciple not from punishment) is a major function of the trades union movement.
    Many of us would be willing to assist the party in conducting reviews, forming local panels and so forth.
    But most importantly confidentiality must be maintained and all accused must be treated as innocent unless and until proved otherwise.
    As Duncan Shipley Dalton (a member suitably qualified and experienced in law and justice) says the right of represention must be ensured.
    Right now representation is refused unless a member can afford a lawyer. All that can be offered is guidance on the process (such as how to write a statement). Yet those who have offered this to members because they believe in the right to representation as a basic tenet of justice, have been harassed, labelled, smeared and threatened.

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  6. This great article just shows how internal sabotage has held the party back over the past two and a half years. Reorganisation of the Party machine and implementation of the Chakrabarti review recommendations is long overdue, and ultimately, will make it difficult for such farragoes as the current antisemitism row, to distract us from the job of challenging the Tories. Natural justice demands it.

  7. It has been a pretty perfect set up to date. McNicol and co could bring anybody or any CLP they wanted before the NEC disputes committee. Most of the delegates would then agree to whatever the officers recommended and the accused could be referred to the NCC for expulsion … all without any legal oversight, advice, consideration of procedures or right of appeal. Furthermore, even better Jeremy Corbyn could then be blamed for all the injustices.

    • I assume a new disputes chair will have to be elected.

      The big problem will be the NCC not really being up to task. Might need to think about creating a new proper quasi judicial panel to manage this on a more regular basis. With 600,000 members doing all this part time as volunteers is not quite as feasible.

      • Good point Duncan , it has to be recognised that with the size and hopefully continuing expansion of the membership roles that were once part time / voluntary can’t continue in that manner .
        My concern is , as we have seen with McNicol, people or panels in powerful positions can become corrupt and biased.
        There would have to be some form of check and balance or they would have to be almost like ” Elliot Ness” untouchables not at risk from the Blairite corrupting influence .

  8. I just hope something’s done to return Paul Davies to the fold, and (ill)eagle and the rest of the ‘tom peppers’ are expelled.

    …And legal assistance given by the party to help Davies sue for defamation 🙂

  9. It seems that John Mann is constructing a ‘little list’….

    ‘If you spot Labour racists, misogynists email or tweet me their posts and I will put them in for expulsion. 130 new ones with us today already.’

    Is the plan to overwhelm Jennie Formby before she even starts?

    Aaron Bastani reports that the anti-Corbyn MPs call themselves the ‘Kamikase Group’ so at least we know that they know exactly what they’re doing.

  10. We could also start by sacking the regional bodies that have have put in reports ignoring information they received and not providing a copy of those reports, that the NEC has to judge whether they are guilty of or not.

    I have read and seen regional interference in selection of candidates, in essence give the money for the support of regional offices back to the CLPs and let them do the job of running their campaigns, and get rid of those who are clearly not working in the interest of the party.

  11. Seems a lot of common sense here and a good point about learning from trade union experience too!
    I need to give the two year rule a bit more thought.
    Labour members I believe are being held to high academic standards and for example an Asian Councillor was suspended for saying something like the Iraq War was the reason that caused young people to join so-called IS.
    But could we interview IS fighters to actually find out their reasons for joining?
    Well someone did it and they found that something like 10% gave this as a reason so this Councillor could have made a perfectly valid (if less powerful) point based on a source of evidence if they had done the research but the Councillor’s point didn’t cover the full story.
    In it’s early years Labour was about the political education of working class men and women (and we can still do this today) – shock, horror we are a POLITICAL PARTY and CAN also try to politicise the public too!
    So wouldn’t it be wonderful if something positive could come out of this and we could recommend further reading and research to members and in perhaps a couple of the most famous cases so far perhaps reading ‘Hitler a Study in Tyranny’ by Alan Bullock may have avoided what could be suggested were some sweeping statements based on limited evidence and possibly jumping to the wrong conclusions?
    I was trained to offer feedback and we don’t fail (expel) people for poor or average practice (unless their content is really extreme) we help to develop their academic skills so that they do things better.
    We should also try to decide things by democratic debates and votes.
    I thing as Left Wing Democratic Socialists we should be trying to build a society (and World) of critical thinkers!
    Can’t be done – in the late 1970’s when I was a young working class male from an inner city area in the UK (and a Labour member) I had an interview for a bursary for Ruskin College at Labour HQ (and I had so much to learn) – I burst with ideas on national politics but didn’t get (in retrospect I am glad) but after the meeting the then very decent General Secretary (Ron Hayward) gave me a book (I think it was called ‘North-South’ about global inequality) but I think it was aimed at developing my international understanding – Bless!
    So perhaps as well as involving legal minds we could involve academics too – we ALL learn something new every day!
    Food for thought.
    Yours in Solidarity!

  12. The Chakrabarti recommendations for a new complaints procedure on page 21 of her June 2016 report are the best way of ensuring the natural justice missing from the rule book discipline chapter . Surely we can find enough Solicitors in the Party that could staff the necessary legal Panels in each Region .
    They would be expected to do this as pro Bono work.

  13. What i don’t understand is why Progress activists such as Richard A are tagging Jennie in Twitter posts asking her why such and such hasn’t been sorted out and this will be a test for her etc. She’s only just become gen sec. Why didn’t they do the same thing with Iain McNicol? They liked Iain McNicol very much and when any antisemitism allegation about a member came up and they questioned inaction or not sufficient action they blamed it on Corbyn, who is nothing to do with the process, but did not mention McNicol. In fact fiercely defended him any time he was criticised. So if they are going after Jennie now, Why did McNicol not sort all this out? Why did he leave cases unresolved. Why did he not expel Bull?

  14. Also, what is their problem with the Chakrabarti report? Why do they call it a whitewash? I confess I don’t know anything about the report and should look it up, but I have seen on twitter the MPs who carried out the report or were involved in it were 6 Tory MPs, 1 SNP, and 2 Labour, one of whom was Chucka Umunna. If so why do they attack Shami and act like there was some sort of Corbyn conspiracy, and what do they not like about the report? As I understand it did NOT conclude there was NO antisemitism. So why do they refer to it as a “whitewash”?

    • That’s the CHAC report. The Chakrabarti report was commissioned by Labour and was welcomed by Jewish groups when published. Some chose to start describing it as a whitewash later.

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