Labour General Secretary Jennie Formby’s planned overhaul to the party’s disciplinary processes bodes well for all parts of the party – with the exception of the few members who behave in an antisemitic fashion.
Formby’s plan is firmly based on the principles of the Chakrabarti report to ensure that justice is not only done, but is done promptly and with due process.
A new disciplinary structure will centre, for cases of alleged antisemitism, around three-member panels, with each member having received specific training in dealing with such cases. Each panel will work to a standardised, ‘fast-track’ timetable to ensure cases are resolved promptly – and the process will be overseen by a new ‘in-house counsel’, whose identity is expected to be revealed shortly.
The new structure consists of thirteen key measures, but its crucial aspects – on top of the appointment of the new in-house counsel – are as follows:
- time limited – the fixed timetable will prevent prolonged ‘limbo’-suspensions common under the previous general secretary
- anonymised – details of complainants and accused will not be seen by panels, to ensure a fair assessment of the evidence and to depoliticise the process
- evidence tests – the new in-house counsel, a highly-qualified lawyer, will specify what qualifies as evidence and how it is to be assessed, to improve the consistency and transparency of the process
- specialised investigators
- use of written evidence/testimony will predominate, helping to neutralise personality factors
- mandatory training for those considered in need of it – the training providers have not yet been decided
Together with a new set of sanctions, allowing more appropriate measures – including ‘no action’ if complaints are found to be groundless – to be taken by the party before the ‘nuclear option’ of expulsion needs to be applied.
The new sanctions structure – divided into ‘informal’ and ‘formal’ measures, is reproduced below:
In the cases, where the respondent’s answers to the fact-finding questions do not require further questioning, the Panel may decide that informal sanctions is the most appropriate course of action. This is likely to apply where respondents have shown understanding of the concerns arising from the matter and is unlikely ever to be appropriate in the most serious cases.
Where it becomes apparent during the investigation process that such informal outcomes have already taken effect, this may, where appropriate, allow the outcome to be reported to the Panel without the need for full consideration of all details of the case.
- Reminder of Conduct: This is one step short of a formal NEC warning and can
be given verbally
- First written warning – if the member’s conduct does not improve the Party
should issue a first written warning. The member should be informed that this is
an informal disciplinary action, the details of the conduct must be outlined and it
must be clear that any further decline or continuation within 12 months of this
conduct could lead to formal disciplinary sanctions
- Specific educational training to be decided by the NEC Antisemitism Panel
- No further action
In the cases, where it appears there is a case to answer, the Panel may decide that a
formal sanction is the most appropriate course of action.
- Formal NEC warning – if the member’s conduct has not improved within the given
period, a formal NEC Warning should be issued. A NEC Formal Warning should
remain on file for a defined period, with appropriate weight given to it in future,
depending on the length of time since the warning, and the similarity of any repeat
- Administrative suspension from all party activity (pending hearing): Until the NCC hearing has concluded, this member would not be able to participate in the Labour Party in any way, excepting in such ballots of all individual members as may be prescribed by the NEC.
- Administrative suspension from CLP meetings (pending hearing): Until the NCC hearing has concluded, this member would only be able to participate in their branch meetings.
- Refer to NCC without administrative suspension: The member would have no limits placed on their membership until the NCC hearing has concluded.
- Re-endorsement interview for prospective candidate: where the member is a candidate for public office, this would instruct the LCF (or other appropriate body) to re-interview the individual on the basis of a change in circumstance.
- Mandatory training: Specific training to be decided by the NEC Antisemitism Panel. This outcome could be combined with any of the above.
- No further action
The new process also includes steps to minimise the extent to which campaigns for or against an accused person are conducted in the public domain before a case is decided, which is to be welcomed – but will of course depend on goodwill and integrity on all sides. The report includes a warning to those considering a breach of this guideline that it may well be regarded as bringing the party into disrepute – with disciplinary consequences for those held responsible.
The new process, created with the hard work of Jennie Formby and her staff and guided by legal experts, represents a major achievement and it should be welcomed by those who have the good of the party and respect both for due process at heart.
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