Group believes leadership’s conduct is unlawful and a breach of its commitment to EHRC
Seven mostly elderly members of the Labour Party have today filed a claim in the High Court after the Party’s acceptance of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) report that its disciplinary process is unfair and not fit for purpose.
Labour Activists For Justice (LA4J), a group of members who say they have all been unjustly accused of undermining the party’s ability to campaign against racism, have been working for six months to persuade the party to improve its disciplinary process for the benefit of all members, but have been rejected at every approach.
Last month the EHRC report on its investigation into antisemitism in the Labour party found that the Party’s disciplinary process was not fit for purpose, and recommended that the party should put in place a new, fair and independent system.
When the EHRC report came out, the party said it would implement all the recommendations as a matter of urgency and would commission a new process.
LA4J approached the party again to ensure that investigations did not continue under the unfair process – and were told the report did not apply to them.
Instead, Labour would continue to use the same disciplinary processes that were found to be seriously unfair by the EHRC.
Today, LA4J filed a claim in the High Court through their solicitors, Bindmans LLP to ensure that the party must now address what they and the EHRC say are multiple failures in its disciplinary process.
The points made by the EHRC are almost identical to the points made by LA4J, including:
· the lack of clear guidelines on how antisemitism cases are judged – the party has now confirmed that it uses a version of its Code of Conduct to judge what is antisemitic that it will not publish or even send to people under investigation;
· withholding the identity of accusers without good reason;
· a lack of fair process for the accused;
· a failure to provide adequate reasons for the decisions made.
The members of the group, four of whom are Jewish, have all had disciplinary action taken against them and are currently under investigation over alleged rule breaches relating to antisemitism, which they strongly reject.
They know that many other members are in similar situations. They say they are making this High Court claim because the suggestion in many cases, including their own, that there is anti-Semitic content in the evidence provided by the Labour party is unfounded and offensive. The group wants a fair disciplinary process to be implemented for all Labour Party members where the criteria by which they will be judged are clear and public and the procedures are fair.
One of the group, Diana Neslen, an 81 year old Orthodox Jew said:
Throughout its history the Labour Movement has fought for the rights of workers, including the right to a fair and just disciplinary process. If any employer tried to impose the party’s process on their employees today, the Labour Movement and the unions would be up in arms. It is a disgrace that needs to be fixed.
Over the last six months we have drawn the party’s attention to our concerns with several lawyer’s letters, but every time they refuse to address our arguments. The idea that the EHRC Report does not apply to us is the last straw. A legal challenge is not a road we want to go down, but they have left us no choice.
LA4J’s Crowdjustice and other funding approaches have been, and continue to be, well supported by hundreds of individual contributors, many of whom have said they have donated or pledged precisely because we are taking action on behalf of all members.
However the likely costs of the action will run to six figure sum, so LA4J invites further contributions.
The members affected are:
Diana Neslen (81) is a General Committee delegate to Ilford South CLP. She is an Orthodox Jew. She rejoined the Labour party in 2015 following the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader and is a member of Jewish Voice for Labour. She has been a long time Palestinian and antiracist activist.
In September 2018, five months after the sudden death of her husband and while undergoing cancer treatment, she received a reminder of conduct from the Labour Party detailing eleven ‘offences’ she had committed. All were social media postings related to Israel’s policies and conduct. There was no indication anywhere as to the identity of the complainants or the definition of antisemitism the Party was applying, and some of the postings predated her Labour party membership.
Although she contacted the party to discover the nature of the ‘offences’, she received no response. In May 2020, while shielding alone, she received a notice of investigation from an anonymous employee of the Labour party detailing seven items that required investigation for antisemitism. The complainants were again anonymous and the definition not based on the published code.
Although she has made contact with the party to request further information and later on to explain the proper context in which what she said must be understood, they have at no time had the courtesy to reply. It is chilling that the Labour party feels emboldened to accuse a Jewish woman of antisemitism on the basis of a hidden definition, and by its unfair processes expose the truth of the EHRC findings about its unjust complaints process.
Jonathan Rosenhead (82) is Chair of Hoxton West branch and serves on the Executive of Hackney South and Shoreditch CLP. He first joined the Labour Party in 1962 and was a Labour Parliamentary candidate in 1966; he rejoined the party in 2015.
His Notice of Investigation served in May 2020 cited as evidence
i) a speech at the February CLP meeting nominating Jo Bird for the NEC, in which his mention of her well known ‘Jew-process’ joke was allegedly a disciplinary offence;
ii) words which were incorrectly asserted to be part of his verbal evidence as a witness at Ken Livingstone’s disciplinary hearing in 2017; and
iii) an article he had written in Open Democracy in October 2017 describing the launch meeting of Jewish Voice for Labour (but which of the 3000 words were problematic was not specified). His conduct is being judged on the basis of an unpublished version of the code.
Michael Ellman (83) is Auditor of Junction Ward branch of Islington North CLP. He is a practising Jew. He joined the Labour Party in 1980, re-joined in 2015 and is a solicitor and former Vice-President of FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights), who has fought for human rights and against racism all his life.
Ellman proposed a motion in August 2020 to an internal branch meeting to reconsider the IHRA definition of antisemitism because it might stifle legitimate political debate, and to substitute the Oxford English Dictionary definition. The motion was leaked to the press by an unknown person and he was immediately suspended from the party for ‘conduct grossly prejudicial to the party’ following a complaint by an unknown person.
Mike Howard (68) Member of Hastings & Rye CLP. Active Labour Party member for over thirty-five years, holding office in six CLP’s during this time. Twice elected Hastings Borough Councillor. Retired (former office-holding) Unison life member. Unite Community, JVL and PSC. He is a Jewish, lifelong anti-racist whose family escaped the murderous pogroms in pre-war Russia/Poland and fought the fascists in their East London neighbourhood. Mike has suffered real anti-semitism, and finds it completely unacceptable that Labour Party HQ, knowing that he is Jewish, has not responded to his solicitors’ request to drop an anonymous complainant’s accusations of anti-semitism against him which is based on the process the EHRC found was unfair and based on a code the Party will not publish.
John Davies (66) Former Chair, St Michael’s Branch, Liverpool Riverside CLP. Member since 2015. He is accused of 7 instances of hostility or prejudice based on race or religion. The instances are mostly re-posts of material posted by others, including a former Israeli minister and a Palestinian doctor, and the charges are based on definitions of antisemitism in a version of an antisemitism code of conduct that the Labour Party will not publish. Mr Davies has been an active anti-racist all his life, and denies all the charges.
Colin O’Driscoll (60) Vice Chair Labour International CLP (Labour Party’s International Section). First joined the Labour Party in 1978, rejoined in 2015 (pre-Corbyn). He is accused on the basis of social media posts of ]various instances of misconduct. The complaint was made some time before May 2020, by a person or persons unknown. The charges were laid in 2020 as part of an express expulsion procedure. He strongly denies the charges, which again are based on an antisemitism code of conduct that the Labour Party will not publish.
Chris Wallis (71) Vice Chair Hazel Grove CLP (near Stockport) . Member since 2015 (pre-Corbyn). He is accused of 5 instances of conduct prejudicial or grossly detrimental to the party relating to racism, and in particular antisemitism. The complaint was made in December 2019 by persons unknown, but the charges were not laid till June 2020, and only then after he had requested an update from the Party as he was about to be Acting Chair of his CLP. He rejects the charges absolutely, which again are based on a version of an antisemitism code of conduct that the Labour Party will not publish.
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