The Labour party has been pressured by legal action into releasing its Code of Conduct for antisemitism cases, which it had previously kept secret despite a reference to it in the party’s rules and its use in disciplinary cases. The release revealed that the code was exactly the same code that was created by then-general secretary Jennie Formby and her team under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.
At the time of its creation, that code was the target of loud and concerted attacks from MPs and other opponents of Corbyn’s leadership, who claimed it ‘watered down‘ the IHRA ‘working definition’ of antisemitism.
Strangely, the emergence of the fact that Keir Starmer’s Labour is using exactly the same document has been met with a deafening silence.
Shortly after it was issued – and under the pressure of the massive attacks on its own code – Labour adopted the IHRA ‘definition’ in full and the code was assumed to have been withdrawn. But the IHRA document itself says that it is not designed to be fit for use as a legal document. Skwawkbox understands that the party found the code was essential in order to apply the IHRA working definition in any legally-reliable way.
So Labour kept using it, competently or otherwise, to choose and judge cases where members are accused of antisemitic conduct – but without the accused or indeed anybody outside the Labour hierarchy knowing about it except in references in occasional hearings of the party’s disciplinary National Constitutional Committee.
Alex Barros-Curtis, Labour’s lawyer, said in recent evidence to the High Court that the code was kept secret because it was regarded internally as ‘incendiary’. Now, under pressure of an impending court case, the party has been forced to disclose it.
You would expect the news that Labour has been secretly using a code that was so widely condemned in every ‘mainstream’ media outlet and even by politicians speaking in Parliament to be big news, but so far, in more than a week since the code was disclosed, there has been… nothing. Presumably the code that was so vile under Jeremy Corbyn is okay under Keir Starmer?
The document came to light because Labour is being taken to the High Court by six of its members who call themselves ‘Labour Activists for Justice’ (LA4J), alongside two other members supported by the ‘Left Legal Fighting Fund’. They are demanding that the party make its disciplinary process fair and just for all members.
One aspect of their claim concerned the use by Labour of a secret, unpublished code of conduct to judge antisemitism cases – a code that accused members could not access and therefore could not use in their defence. Labour had repeatedly refused to publish it, even though it could guide members in their own conduct and prevent avoidable conflict.
In a preliminary hearing in the High Court in February, LA4J won their arguments about how the case should proceed and had their costs awarded against the party for that hearing. Last week, more than a month later, Labour released the withheld code that formed a central part of the claim.
It appears that the code has been used to decide which complaints to pursue – and to judge those complaints – since September 2018, with its use continuing uninterrupted under the Starmer regime. So far, there appear to have been no accusations of antisemitism against the party following the publication of the code last week.
Diana Neslen, an 81 year-old orthodox Jew accused of antisemitism by the party and a member of the LA4J group, said:
I’m very pleased that the party has now published this secret code. Even a quick look at it suggests that all of us have been wrongfully accused, indeed we should never have been investigated in the first place. But there are still all the other issues that we are challenging and this just highlights the gross injustice of the whole process. And what are they going to do about the hundreds of people already judged under the secret code, including me?
The revelation that the code is still in use is not only politically revealing. It also opens up the possibility of further legal action against the party with members sanctioned or expelled since 2018 demanding that their cases be re-opened and treated transparently, with new defences based on the content of the code that was not revealed to them at the time.
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