Submission of draft report by EHRC could suggest unlawful acts

EXCLUSIVE: Labour given “a minimum period of 28 days” to make written representations


This week Labour party confirmed it had received a draft copy of the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s investigation into antisemitism.

The decision to send a draft of the EHRC’s findings to the party – giving Labour “a minimum period of 28 days” to make written representations – is consistent with the steps needed to be taken by the body for a ruling that an “unlawful act” has taken place.

Meanwhile, the party was set to offer a formal apology to the seven Panorama whistleblowers as part of a settlement for a libel case brought against Labour by the lawyer Mark Lewis.

Labour confirmed on Monday that it had received a draft copy of the equalities watchdog’s landmark report into antisemitism in the party and its much-criticised complaints procedure under former leader Mr Corbyn.

In a statement after receiving the report, a spokesman said the party was committed to fully implementing the commission’s recommendations. Both the Labour leader and the EHRC said they would not comment until the final report is published later this year.

If the EHRC report does conclude that Labour did commit unlawful acts, and that cannot be taken as read at the
moment, it would leave the party open to potentially costly claims from Jewish members.

Under Section 20 (4) of the Equality Act, “before settling a report of an investigation recording a finding that a person has committed an unlawful act ... the Commission shall a) send a draft of the report to the person and b) specify a period of at least 28 days during which he may make written representations about the draft and consider any representations made.”

Sending the report to Labour now is consistent with the EHRC intending to find that the party has committed an unlawful act.

Labour released a statement on Monday saying that antisemitism in the party had caused “unimaginable and unacceptable levels of grief and distress for many in the Jewish community, as well as members of staff”.

If it concludes the party has committed an unlawful act, the EHRC can issue Labour with an “unlawful act notice”. This would require the party to prepare an action plan to avoid continuing or repeating it.

But the JC understands that the final report will steer clear of pinning the blame for Labour’s antisemitism crisis solely on individuals in the partyincluding former leader Mr Corbyn. This does not mean individuals will not be censured.

Many of the key individuals involved during the period under investigation, including former general secretary Jenny Formby, Mr Corbyn’s chief of staff Karie Murphy, head of complaints Thomas Gardiner and director of communications Seumas Milne, are no longer in the party.

The probe has focused heavily on Labour’s response to complaints of alleged unlawful acts regarding Jewish members of the party that took place under former leader Jeremy Corbyn after March 11 2016. 

It will look at wider aspects around the culture and working practices of the party, and the way in which it has responded to allegations and complaints about anti-Jewish racism.

But it will not attempt to provide an answer to the widely cited allegation that Labour is “institutionally antisemitic” -  deemed to be a political question out of the EHRC’s remit.

It has looked into whether the Labour Party has unlawfully discriminated against, harassed or victimised people because they are Jewish.

The JC understands Labour received the draft report at the beginning of last week - but its contents have been shared among only a handful of party officials.

Sir Keir Starmer told the JC in March he would implement all the watchdog’s recommendations as “a minimum”.
Labour’s statement this week added: “Tackling antisemitism within the Labour Party is a priority and we are determined to take the further action necessary to begin restoring trust with the Jewish community.

“We are committed to cooperating fully with the Commission’s investigation and implementing its recommendations when the final report is published. We will be making no further comment.”

The JC understands that the party is close to finalising a deal with to former whistleblowing staff members – along with the veteran journalist John Ware who made the BBC Panorama programme – who sued for libel over statements made following the show’s broadcast last July.

The seven whistleblowers had instructed the lawyer Mark Lewis to act on their behalf after Labour issued a series of statements attempting to discredit them, Mr Ware and the central allegations made in the Panorama, titled ‘Is Labour Antisemitic’?

Mr Lewis accused Labour of “wilfully attacking  the whistleblowers, falsely accusing them of making deliberate, malicious representations, and misleading the public, while also calling them disaffected former officials whose credibility as sources was in doubt.”

A further legal letter was sent to the party last December alleging it had libelled Mr Ware in statements following broadcast of the programme.

It was contended that Labour had libelled a respected journalist for suggesting he deliberately set out to make a biased programme.

In one statement, Labour said: “The Panorama programme and the BBC have engaged in deliberate and malicious representations designed to mislead the public.”

The documentary, now nominated for a Bafta, alleged that top party figures had interfered with investigations into antisemitism.

On the evening the programme was aired, a Labour spokesman said: “It appears these disaffected former officials include those who have always opposed Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, worked to actively to undermine it and have both personal and political axes to grind. This throws into doubt their credibility as sources.”

Any decision to consider settling the libel claim would infuriate left-wingers in the party who have repeatedly claimed the Panorama was based on false claims.

In April, a leaked report into the party’s handling of antisemitism, which is now the subject of the independent Forde Inquiry, had attempted to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the whistleblowers’ claims.

Organisations such as Jewish Voice For Labour ran articles attempting to discredit the show.

The broadcast regulator, Ofcom, rejected 28 complaints against the same programme. It decided there were no grounds for pursuing any allegation of bias.

A source close to the whistleblowers said: “Nothing is settled until it’s settled.”

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