We asked a number of people to do a critique on the Labour Party Rule book – and focusing at this time on Chapter 6 which is concerned with the Complaints Procedure. Here Glynis Millward, a suspended Labour Party member gives her critique.

Report on Labour Party Rule Book 2016

Background

  1. I have read the copy of the Rule Book 2016 (the rules) which was in force at the time the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the Labour Party suspended the vast majority of Labour Party members on or around the period July 2016 to September 2016:-
  1. https://assets.documentcloud.org/documents/2972711/Labour-Rule-Book-2016.pdf Throughout this report, I have used the rules contained in the link above.
  1. Chapter 6 (pages 24 – 25) under the heading Disciplinary Rules, is made up of Clause I and Clause II, with the former headed National Action by the Party and Action by CLPs respectively.

Clause I – National action by the party

  1. The NEC shall take such disciplinary measures as it deems necessary …”
  1. There is no explanation of these “measures”, other than to say that “such powers shall include …”
  1. At first glance, it is suggested to the reader that the NEC can do what it likes. Although some details are shown at Chapter 6 Clause I parts A, B and C, there are clearly other powers that are not referred to either in the rules or anywhere else, regarding ordinary members.

suggestions

  • Bullet point specific nec powers in relation to ordinary members or provide details in an appendix where they may be found.

  • overreliance on acronyms and abbreviations could lead to confusion; key to be provided at start of each section explaining acronyms and abbreviations.

CLAUSE I – A

  1. It is stated, “ In relation to any alleged breach of the constitution, rules or standing orders of the Party by an individual member or members of the Party,…” No links are provided in relation to;
  1. What constitutes a breach and
  2. Where the constitution, rules or standing orders may be found.
  1. This section continues with, “The NEC may pending the final outcome of any investigation and charges (if any) suspend that individual from office or representation of the party”
  1. In this report authors experience of assisting suspended members through the process of their suspension, most ordinary members do not hold office within the party or indeed consider themselves to be a representative of the party and are therefore under the impression that this does not apply to them.
  1. The section continues with …” The General Secretary or other National Officer shall investigate and report to the NEC on any such investigation”
  1. It is not stated what form this “investigation” will take or indeed, what part the ordinary member will play in it.
  1. It is then stated that when the report is submitted, “The NEC may instruct the General secretary or other National officer to formulate charges against the individual concerned and present such charges to the NCC for determination in accordance with those rules
  1. No timeline is provided in relation to this process and no details are provided as to what the members rights are in relation to this process.

 suggestions

  • The terms used should include the words “ordinary members”, this will raise awareness of the fact that these clauses also apply to them.
  • Again, there is a reliance on abbreviations and acronyms
  • A flow chart which shows the process and progress of a “standard” investigation would be helpful. Some people find reams of text difficult to digest, particularly when everyday language is not being used. A visual representation of this process will greatly aid understanding of it.

CLAUSE I – B

  1. In relation to any alleged breach of Labour group rules and standing orders by a group member or members, the NEC may, pending the final outcome of any investigation and charges (if any), suspend that individual or individuals from the group in question”
  1. This sub clause appears to relate to “groups” that the individual may be a member of. However, it does not refer to which “groups” these are likely to be.

suggestions

  • An explanation of the groups referred to, in list form, should be provided.

CLAUSE I – C

“…the NEC may issue written warnings to any individual member of the Party drawing attention to the conduct which in the opinion of the NEC is either incompatible with continued membership of the Party or may be in, or may lead to, a breach of the constitution, rules or standing orders of the Party.”

  1. It is not clear from this section if the letters sent to members who were suspended constitute the “warning” or if it refers to those members who had their suspension lifted and were issued with a “warning” that their alleged breach of the rules would remain on record idefinately.
  1. In the opinion of the author of this report, the wording in this section is unnecessarily confusing, cumbersome, convoluted and open to misinterpretation by the ordinary member.

suggestions

  • The process/procedure in respect of the issue of warnings should be clarified.
  • It would be helpful if ordinary, everyday language was used not just throughout the rules, but certainly in relation to this section as it would be hoped that the issue of suspensions and charges would not be of such a regular occurrence that the ordinary member would be familiar with it.
  • Avenues of support (where they exist) should be communicated to the member in this section; being suspended, expelled or rejected is likely to be an upsetting experience for the ordinary member and details of individuals or groups that they can discuss this matter with would be helpful.

CLAUSE 1:2

  1. This section concerns the readmission of the member following their expulsion and states “such application shall not normally be considered by the NEC until a minimum of 5 years has elapsed”
  1. There is no explanation as to what breach by the member would warrant expulsion from the party.
  1. Five years is a significant amount of time in anyones’ language and there is no explanation as to why that minimum period is applied.
  1. There is no information about an expulsion appeals process or support process.

suggestions

  • The process/procedure in respect of the issue of expulsions should be clarified especially in relation to appeals against the expulsion. It is the opinion of this author that expulsions are far more serious than suspensions and there should be a clear and robust process for appeals and complaints for members who find themselves in this category.
  • Avenues of support (where they exist) should be communicated to the member in this section; being suspended, expelled or rejected is likely to be an upsetting experience for the ordinary member and details of individuals or groups that they can discuss this matter with would be helpful.

CLAUSE 1:3

  1. It is stated; “require the membership rights of the individual member concerned to be confined to participation in their own branch meetings”
  1. Ordinary members, especially those new to the party, may not be familiar with the party hierarchy, and may not understand the meaning of a “branch meeting”
  1. Similarly, where it is stated; “in such ballots of all individual members as may be prescribed by the NEC” clarification is required.

suggestions

  • A “hierarchy” chart showing how the party is organized would be useful for new members

CLAUSE II – Action by CLPs

CLAUSE II – 1

  1. Again, there is no reference to where the constitution, rules or standing orders may be viewed by the member.
  1. The impression is given that in the matter of a third party complaint, it is the CLP who enforce compliance.

CLAUSE II – A

  1. The 3rd party complaint process in relation to the member complained of is not included, especially in respect of informing the member that an allegation has been made against them

CLAUSE II – B

  1. There is no mention as to what the Executive Committee of the CLP take into account when deciding if an investigation into the complaint is warranted.

CLAUSE II – C

  1. No mention of the members part in this process.

CLAUSE II – D

1. No mention of the members part in this process.

CLAUSE II – E

Nil of note

CLAUSE II – F

Nil of note

CLAUSE II – G

Nil of note

CLAUSE II – H

  1. It appears from this section, that the member complained of may not be allowed the opportunity to submit their own evidence.

CLAUSE II – I

  1. Details as to how the investigators may arrive at a “prima facie” case is not clear; there are no details of any checks or balances, such as an independent audit in respect of these investigation.

CLAUSE II – J

Nil of note

CLAUSE II – K

Nil of note

CLAUSE II – L

  1. It appears to only at this stage, with the “charge” being referred to the NCC, that the member complained of has an opportunity for an oral hearing.

Summary

It is the opinion of this author, that throughout both the suspension and appeal process, the member appears to be of minor importance.

There is a lack of support and a lack of communication throughout both processes.

It should be acknowledged by the NEC, NCC and EC CLP that both old and new members are not likely to be familiar with either the suspension or expulsion process as by their very nature, these processes should be a rare occurrence.

It is important, says this author, that there needs to be information available to and support for members, both old and new who find themselves in the situation where they are suspended or expelled.

It is concerning, that despite the 2 tick disability logo which appears on the bottom of suspension/expulsion letters, the committees do not appear to be complying with their obligations within the Equality Act by making reasonable adjustments especially for those members who are vulnerable or suffer with mental health issues. Support MUST be made available for these members – as it is a lawful requirement to do so.

The wording used in the rules is obtuse, confusing, onerous and untidily drafted. If it is not possible to rewrite it (due to cost and/or resources), then at the very least, an easy to read summary should be available to members either on line or in hard copy form. The Plain English website gives excellent tips on drafting information leaflets and will even proof read and edit forms and publications for a small fee.

Glynis Millward suspended Labour Party member

                          

We asked a few other people for their opinion of the accessibility of Ch. 6 and Appendix 6 which deals with procedures related to Ch. 6  here are their responses:

`I could not bear to read this document (too much for my poor brain) but dipping in here and there, it seems to me that whoever did the dirty work – ie expelling people – didn’t read it either. There are some complicated things that have to be done that it seems were not done at least in some cases.`   

`As a solicitor I find it relatively straightforward but I don’t blame anyone for finding it rather wordy and inscrutable. But I don’t see in the rules any justification for suspending a person, then lifting the suspension, without any investigation in which the person has the right to speak and to challenge the suspension. If there has been a secret investigation leading to a secret report leading to a decision to un-suspend, then I think we must assert that the suspended person must have the right to see the report.`

` Hmmm….two degrees and a professional qualification and I need to lie down in a darkened room with a cold flannel before reading this again.` 

` I am a university graduate with two post-graduate qualifications and rarely have I found anything that is as impenetrable as this! I would be more interested in something in plain language that the average person can understand. I am also wondering if there are members’ rights akin to a grievance policy in the workplace. Eg – if I do something wrong, I can be subjected to disciplinary proceedings. However if I am badly treated by a manager or colleague, I can take out a grievance. I certainly feel that I have been treated very badly and am seriously thinking of taking out a grievance if such a system exists and can be understood!`

`I’m PhD level and I have continually suggested there has to be a grievance procedure for members to follow and no one has found one! I work for a teachers union and frequently have to use this method with considerable success. There must be procedures in place and the ordinary rules published by LP only protect the NEC and CLP which are top down. By law LP must have a procedure for members. Where is it?`

` Not sure about anyone else but I find this draconian in places and open to abuse by then authorities as they can pretty much do whatever whenever`

A Critique of the Disciplinary Rules of the Labour Party and

            A Legal Look at the Labour Party Rule Book by

Duncan Shipley Dalton LL.B(Hons) LL.M CPLS MPA (Harvard) Barrister-at-Law  Labour member Southampton Itchen CLP

A Critique of the Disciplinary Rules of the Labour Party by Duncan Shipley Dalton

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