Labour ‘risks election war chest’ in legal fees for antisemitism whistleblower court case

Sources involved in the case say party's determination to fight claim may cost £20 million, putting its general election funding in jeopardy


LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 15: Labour leader Keir Starmer speaks at Toynbee Hall on February 15, 2023 in London, England. The Equalities and Human Rights Commission has ended monitoring the Labour Party, saying it has met the demands imposed after a devastating report on antisemitism within the party in 2020. Keir Starmer apologised for the hurt caused to the Jewish community. He said, "What you have been through can never be undone. Apologies alone cannot make it right." The EHRC decision is "not a moment for celebration, but a moment for reflection". (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)

Labour is running the risk of devastating legal fees in a High Court battle with whistleblowers who exposed antisemitism within the party.

Sources involved in the case have told the JC that Labour’s determination to fight the claim may cost it as much as £20 million, putting its general election war chest in jeopardy.

The Party, which reported a £5 million deficit after expenditure in its last accounts, has been accused in court documents of “weaponising fees”, raising the stakes in an effort to force the complainants to back down.

The court heard that Labour’s lawyers were attempting to alarm the claimants — who seeking damages for breaching their right to privacy and data protection — with the threat of legal costs that would ruin them, an allegation denied by the party’s lawyers.

Labour is being sued by nine members of campaign group Labour Against Antisemitism after their personal details were leaked in a report intended for the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) which was investigating the Party, in 2020.

The 850-page report, which was never submitted to the equalities watchdog, was released shortly after Sir Keir Starmer replaced Jeremy Corbyn as leader in April 2020.

The unauthorised disclosure led to vicious online attacks on the whistleblowers from the extreme left and right, as well as chilling “calls to action” by neo-Nazi groups.

The party has said it is determined to defend the claim and in turn has launched a further law suit against the five former staffers — including former Guardian journalist Seumas Milne — it alleges leaked the report.

Lawyers representing Labour said that if the case succeeds and the party is found responsible for the leaked EHRC report — and not the five former staffers who it alleges are to blame —then it could mean that almost 400 people affected by the report “may be contemplating suing the party” and could cost “millions of pounds”.

At least 26 further cases are already believed to be waiting for the outcome of the current case, include 24 people represented by the well-known media solicitor Mark Lewis.

A senior legal source who has been monitoring the cases closely has told the JC that the costs and damages faced by the party could “easily reach” £20 million. The source said: “The sums are so big they could damage Labour’s chances of fighting the next election. If so, Labour has only itself to blame.”

The disclosure comes after the EHRC announced the party had been taken out of special measures earlier this month, with Keir Starmer hailing progress in tackling antisemitism as a watershed moment for the party.

It followed the equalities watchdog’s damning 2020 report which said Labour had subjected Jewish members to unlawful discrimination and needed to reform both its disciplinary processes and its vetting of candidates.

The potential scale of the costs of the case were outlined in legal papers submitted to the court by lawyers at a preliminary hearing this week

It included a letter from Labour’s solicitors which said the whistleblowers should be warned about the costs they would individually have to pay to Labour if they lost, which, they claimed, would “run into excess” of £1 million.

In response the claimants’ lawyer, Daniel Berke, of Manchester-based 3D Regulatory Solicitors, told the court: “This level of costs was grossly disproportionate to the Claimants’ Claim”, adding the “defendant’s objective” was to “knock the Claimants out” with the threat of costs “they could not afford”.

He also challenged Labour’s assertion the claimants request for anonymity should be rejected as they “all courted controversy by reason of their public statements”.

Speaking after the hearing, Mr Berke told the JC: “The Labour Party’s lawyers have said that my clients have ‘courted controversy’ by campaigning against antisemitism. This is a truly objectionable phrase, it sounds like victim-blaming, and demonstrates even now Labour have no appreciation of how serious this matter is for Jews and anyone opposed to anti-Jewish racism.

“How can Keir Starmer claim he’s determined to root out antisemitism when the party is threatening people who played a significant role in exposing antisemites in Labour with financial ruin?”

In court papers, Labour’s lawyers denied they were responsible for driving up costs and instead blamed the claimants’ legal team and “defects” in the way they were handling the case.

It also accuses them of failing to make “full and frank disclosure” of the public statements made by the claimants about Labour antisemitism describing one of the campaigners of being “something of a provocateur”.

Steve McCabe MP, the chair of Labour Friends of Israel, told the JC: “We’ve already invested a lot of money in fighting these cases, and in my view, it would be much better to settle them.

“I want to see us move on from this horrendous episode in Labour’s history, and fighting a whole series of court cases of this nature is not the way to do it.”

A Labour Party spokesperson said: “The party has conducted a wide-ranging and appropriately thorough investigation following the leak and is confident of the case it has presented to the court. ”

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive