The Equality and Human Rights Commission has launched a full statutory investigation into antisemitism in the Labour Party following a formal referral and detailed legal representations from Campaign Against Antisemitism, which is the complainant.
The Commission’s investigation will evaluate the Labour Party’s handling of the many acts of antisemitic discrimination and victimisation detailed in the dossiers that Campaign Against Antisemitism has provided in a number of submissions since July 2018.
The Commission, which was created by a Labour government in 2006, is vested with tough powers designed to force organisations to comply with equality and human rights laws.
The decision to launch a statutory investigation under section 20 of the Equality Act 2006 unlocks the Commission’s full range of enforcement powers, allowing it to compel the Labour Party to reveal details of its handling of antisemitism in recent years, including internal communications such as text messages and e-mails. The Commission can also seek court injunctions against the Labour Party to prevent further antisemitic discrimination, harassment and victimisation, and it can also impose an action plan on the Party and enforce compliance through the courts.
The Commission has made the move following a pre-enforcement engagement process with the Labour Party that left it convinced that the Party could not be trusted to resolve its antisemitism problem on its own. During the pre-enforcement engagement process, numerous senior Labour figures called for the Commission to investigate, including Deputy Labour Leader Tom Watson, Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry and former Justice Secretary Lord Falconer.
Gideon Falter, Chief Executive of Campaign Against Antisemitism, said: “There are only two reasons that the Commission has taken this extraordinary step. The first is that the Labour Party has repeatedly failed to address its own antisemitism problem. The second is that when the Commission approached the Labour leadership, they still failed to offer to action sufficient to reassure the Commission that the antisemitic discrimination and victimisation would stop.
“Jeremy Corbyn, Jennie Formby and Labour’s National Executive Committee have refused to listen to British Jews nor even to the MPs, MEPs, councillors and activists who have quit Labour because the Party which for decades was a great anti-racist Party has now become a home for hatred in British politics. In just four chilling years, Jeremy Corbyn has turned the Party which pioneered anti-racism into the Party that now finds itself in the company of the BNP, being investigated by the very equality and human rights regulator it once fought so hard to establish. Over the course of his leadership we have seen enough to convince us that Jeremy Corbyn himself is an antisemite and unfit for any public office and though few have acted, most Labour MPs seem to agree with us.
“We are pleased that the Commission’s terms of reference closely follow our recommendations and will see a root and branch investigation of the Labour Party’s antisemitic discrimination, victimisation and harassment, as well as how the Party’s processes and decisions contributed. We commend the Commission for acting on our referral and we have full confidence in its resolve to investigate thoroughly and deliver justice.”
A spokesperson for the Commission said: “The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is today launching a formal investigation to determine whether The Labour Party has unlawfully discriminated against, harassed or victimised people because they are Jewish. The EHRC is pleased that The Labour Party has committed to co-operate fully with its investigation…The EHRC has carefully considered the response it has received from the Party and has now opened a formal investigation under section 20 of the Equality Act 2006 to further examine the concerns. The investigation will seek to determine whether unlawful acts have been committed by the Party and/or its employees and/or its agents; and whether the Party has responded to complaints of unlawful acts in a lawful, efficient and effective manner.”
The terms of reference for the investigation can be found below.
Campaign Against Antisemitism first contacted the Equality and Human Rights Commission during the Labour Party Conference in Brighton in 2017. The conference was so rife with antisemitism that Brighton and Hove City Council’s Labour leader, Warren Morgan, told his own party that he would not permit use of Council premises for the conference again. Mr Morgan has since resigned from the Labour Party over antisemitism. At the time, the Chief Executive of the Commission issued a statement demanding that the Labour Party prove “that it is not a racist party”.
Campaign Against Antisemitism made a number of disciplinary complaints to the Labour Party between 2016 and 2018 about Jeremy Corbyn, including about his defence of the antisemitic Tower Hamlets mural in 2012, his Holocaust Memorial Day event in 2010, and his Press TV interview in 2012 (Press TV is an Iranian state broadcaster which Ofcom banned from broadcasting in Britain).
The Labour Party refused to open an investigation into our complaints, and consequently on 31st July 2018, Campaign Against Antisemitism referred the Labour Party to the Commission over its institutional antisemitism. Other organisations, including two groups of Jewish Labour activists, have since written to the Commission to support our referral.
At the Commission’s request, Campaign Against Antisemitism submitted detailed legal arguments in November 2018. We have continued to provide additional legal arguments to the Commission based on developments since November, resulting in the Commission’s announcement on 7th March that it was starting pre-enforcement proceedings against the Labour Party.
During the pre-enforcement period, the Labour Party had an opportunity to make representations to the Commission agreeing a plan of action that would remove the need for a statutory investigation by offering to implement certain measures against antisemitism that the Commission could monitor compliance with.
The Labour Party failed to satisfy the Commission that it could be trusted to address the issue itself, leading to today’s announcement of a full statutory investigation.
Enforcement process and powers
We asked the Commission to open a statutory investigation under section 20 of the Equality Act 2006 into antisemitic discrimination and victimisation in the Labour Party.
Now that a statutory investigation has been launched, the Commission can use its powers to compel the Labour Party to reveal details of its handling of antisemitism in recent years, including internal communications such as text messages and e-mails. It can also seek court injunctions against the Labour Party to prevent further antisemitic discrimination and victimisation, and it can also impose an action plan on the Party and enforce compliance with the plan. Previous statutory investigations include an investigation into unlawful harassment, discrimination and victimisation within the Metropolitan Police Service.
The only other political party to have been subject to a statutory investigation is the British National Party.
Before the Commission opened its statutory investigation, which is considered a form of enforcement action, the Commission entered into a pre-enforcement period of engagement with the Labour Party, allowing it to propose a plan of action and make representations to the Commission giving reasons why enforcement should not commence, and offering to take action voluntarily, under the Commission’s supervision. This is normal practice.
Due to the public and brazen nature of antisemitic discrimination and victimisation in the Labour Party, and due to the Labour Party’s failure to convince the Commission that it would take suitable action, the Commission has now launched a full investigation under section 20 of the Equality Act 2006.
Content of our legal submissions
Campaign Against Antisemitism has submitted four detailed legal submissions to the Commission, initially assisted by specialist human rights counsel Adam Wagner of Doughty Street Chambers and latterly also assisted by Derek Spitz of One Essex Court Chambers. The first was submitted on 9th November 2018.
We will not be releasing the submissions at this stage, however our submissions provided a substantial list of incidents for investigation, including incidents involving Mr Corbyn.
In summary, we made legal arguments that:
- An unacceptable number of antisemitic incidents of unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation have occurred in Labour in recent years. These have occurred at all levels of the Party and continue to occur.
- Under Mr Corbyn’s leadership, Labour’s disciplinary mechanisms for dealing with antisemitism have been significantly weakened, and the machinery of the Party has been used to victimise those who stand up against antisemitism.
- A culture of denial and victimisation has developed in some sections of Labour in relation to antisemitism. For example, antisemitism allegations are often described as “smears”.
- The result of the toxic culture which surrounds the issue of antisemitism in Labour is that people who suffer discrimination are subjected to victimisation when they raise complaints or are reluctant to bring complaints in the first place.
- Antisemitism in Labour should be judged according to the International Definition of Antisemitism, which Labour has itself adopted alongside the government and other major political parties.
- Labour has failed to put in place a fair and effective complaints and disciplinary process to deal with antisemitism.
- There is substantial evidence that the problem of antisemitism in Labour has become institutional.
- Labour appears incapable of resolving this issue of antisemitism itself.
- There is sufficient evidence to warrant a section 20 statutory investigation by the Commission into whether systemic unlawful acts have occurred in the handling of complaints of antisemitism in relation to Labour officials, members and other representatives, and whether Labour is now institutionally racist.
Terms of reference
The investigation’s finalised terms of reference as issued by the Commission are as follows:
In accordance with paragraph 3 of Schedule 2 to the Equality Act 2006.
Statutory Investigation under section 20 and Schedule 2 of the Equality Act 2006 into The Labour Party by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
1. The Commission suspects that The Labour Party (‘the Party’) may have itself, and/or through its employees and/or agents, committed unlawful acts in relation to its members and/or applicants for membership and/or associates.
Scope of investigation
2. The investigation will consider whether the Party carried out such unlawful acts.
3. The investigation will need to be effective but proportionate. The investigation will focus on the Party’s response to a sample of complaints of alleged unlawful acts that have taken place since 11 March 2016. However, the investigation may consider the Party’s response to such complaints that have taken place prior to this date, if it is considered necessary and appropriate.
4. In examining the evidence the Commission will look at such issues as it considers appropriate, which may include any or all of the following:
a. Whether unlawful acts have been committed by the Party and/or its employees and/or its agents
b. The steps taken by the Party to implement the recommendations made in the reports on antisemitism by Baroness Royall, the Home Affairs Select Committee and in the Chakrabarti Report
c. Whether the Rule Book and the Party’s investigatory and disciplinary processes have enabled or could enable it to deal efficiently and effectively with complaints of race and/or religion or belief discrimination and racial harassment and/or victimisation, including whether appropriate sanctions have been and/or could be applied; and
d. Whether the Party has responded to complaints of unlawful acts in a lawful, efficient and effective manner.
5. The Commission will publish a report of its findings and may make recommendations in accordance with Schedule 2 paragraph 16 of the 2006 Act.
Communications concerning this investigation
6. Any communications concerning this investigation may be sent in confidence to LPI@equalityhumanrights.com
7. For the purposes of these terms of reference the following definitions apply:
a. ‘The 2006 Act’ means the Equality Act 2006
b. ‘The 2010 Act’ means the Equality Act 2010
c. ‘The Labour Party’ means the unincorporated association called The Labour Party governed by the Rule Book including those component parts of its structure referred to at Paragraphs 1 and 2 of Clause II, and Clause IX of Chapter 1of the Rule Book 2019 (for the avoidance of doubt this includes the NEC, NCC, CLPs and BLPs) but excluding organisations affiliated to it
d. ‘The Rule Book’ means the Labour Party Rule Book operative at the material time
e. ‘The Commission’ means the Commission for Equality and Human Rights (commonly known as the Equality and Human Rights Commission)
f. ‘Agent’ has the same meaning as in the 2010 Act
g. ‘Associate’ has the same meaning as in the 2010 Act
h. ‘Association’ has the same meaning as in the 2010 Act
i. ‘BLP’ means a branch of a CLP as defined in the Rule Book
j. ‘CLP’ means a Constituency Labour Party as defined in the Rule Book
k. ‘Employee’ has the same meaning as in the 2010 Act
l. ‘Member’ has the same meaning as in the 2010 Act
m. ‘NCC’ means The Labour Party’s National Constitution Committee as defined in the Rule Book
n. ‘NEC’ means The Labour Party’s National Executive Committee as defined in the Rule Book
o. ‘Protected act’ has the same meaning as in the 2010 Act
p. ‘Protected racial characteristic’ means Jewish ethnicity
q. ‘Protected religion or belief characteristic’ means Judaism
r. ‘Racediscrimination’meansdirectdiscriminationor unjustified indirect race discrimination (as those terms are defined in the 2010 Act) because of the protected racial characteristic
s. ‘Religion or belief discrimination’ means direct discrimination or unjustified indirect religion or belief discrimination (as those terms are defined in the 2010 Act) because of the protected religious characteristic
t. ‘Harassment’ means harassment (as that term is defined in the 2010 Act) where the harassment relates to the protected racial characteristic
u. ‘Victimisation’ means victimisation (as that term is defined in the 2010 Act) where the protected act relates to the protected racial characteristic and/or the protected religious characteristic
v. ‘Unlawful acts’ means race discrimination and/or racial harassment and/or religion or belief discrimination and/or victimisation, as defined herein.
8. In the course of the investigation, the Commission may have regard to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism and associated examples, while recognising it is a non-legally binding definition.
How to help
Campaign Against Antisemitism has invested heavily in the legal work required to produce this result, and our volunteers have spent many hundreds of hours compiling evidence.