Watchdog investigating Labour antisemitism is breaking its own rules, says Jewish group
The UK equalities watchdog charged with investigating alleged antisemitism in the Labour Party has broken its own rules, according to a group of Jewish members of the party.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) launched its probe in May after it said it had received "a number of complaints" alleging antisemitism in the party.
'How can we as people involved in the investigation be certain that the outcome will be appropriate?'
-Jenny Manson, Jewish Voice for Labour
But Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL) says the EHRC has failed to clarify who is being investigated and what unlawful act they are suspected of committing, both required by its own terms of reference.
"As they haven't explained exactly what they are investigating and shown, as they are required to do, the complaints that they are investigating, how can we as people involved in the investigation be certain that the outcome will be appropriate?" JVL co-chair Jenny Manson told Middle East Eye.
JVL's concerns are laid out in a 14-page letter filed this week with the commission, just ahead of its deadline for submissions. A list of high-profile signatories includes human rights lawyer Sir Geoffrey Bindman QC and Oxford professor Avi Shlaim.
The JVL says it welcomes an investigation into the controversy over the allegations of antisemitism in the party which it says "has been fuelled by partisan and politically motivated interventions".
But the group holds that without making public the complaints and Labour's response when the EHRC shared them ahead of launching the probe, the commission has violated the 2006 Equality Act which governs the watchdog.
In its submission, JVL points to a section of the act which requires that the EHRC specify who is being investigated and “the nature of the unlawful act” which the commission suspects.
“We submit that the [terms of reference] of this investigation manifestly fails to do this and is therefore defective and in breach of the statutory requirements imposed on the commission,” the letter says.
Questions over scope of investigation
The submission also argues that the commission is only empowered to investigate whether a Labour party member, or someone who has applied to join, has contravened the Equality Act, not antisemitism generally.
Without clarification from the EHRC, JVL says it can only speculate that the unlawful acts the commission is referring to are alleged “inadequate, biased or inordinately delayed” Labour party investigations into antisemitism made by party members against other members.
"Insofar as the Labour party's disciplinary processes have been in one or another respect defective, this alone would not amount to unlawful discrimination," the letter says.
"From our own experience, there were defects in the party's handling of complaints, but these related to a broad range of issues, particularly in the period before the change of General Secretary in April 2018."
JVL also takes issue with the scope of the commission’s investigation. According to the Equality Act, the commission is only empowered to investigate incidents which violate the act itself.
But in the EHRC’s terms of reference on the Labour party investigation, it says it will look at the steps the party has taken to implement recommendations made in the reports of antisemitism by Baroness Royall, the Home Affairs Committee and the Chakrabarti report made in recent years.
“We understand that the Labour Party has accepted the findings of Baroness Royall, commented on the [Home Affairs Committee] report and accepted in full the report of the Chakrabarti Inquiry,” the letter says.
The party's response to the reports "throw no light on the only question in the investigation, namely whether the Labour Party has committed unlawful discriminatory acts".
MEE asked the EHRC if it wanted to comment on JVL's concerns that it had violated its own terms of reference.
“We are carrying out our investigation in accordance with the terms of reference set out on our website. We will review all the evidence we have received," a commission spokesperson said.