You are here

Labour wins court case over voting rules

'Decision is wrong - both legally and democratically,' says Labour leader

12 August 2016

Add comment

Nearly 130,000 new Labour members will not be allowed to vote in the party's leadership contest, the Court of Appeal has ruled.

The successful appeal from the party's ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) means new members will not be able to take part in the ballot due to end on 24 September.

The decision comes days after Labour lost a legal challenge from five new party members in the High Court to stop members who joined after 12 January from voting unless they paid £25.

A spokesman for the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, said the decision was 'wrong - both legally and democratically' and 'disenfranchises nearly 130,000 Labour members'.

The case arose after the NEC decided a 'freeze date' whereby full members could only vote if they had joined at least six months before the 12 July.

However, members and non-members were given the opportunity to pay £25 between 18 and 20 July to become 'registered supporters', enabling them to vote. Five new members brought a legal challenge in the High Court citing a breach of contract, arguing they had 'paid their dues'.

In the High Court, Mr Justice Hickinbottom ruled in the claimants' favour: 'For the party to refuse to allow the claimants to vote in the current leadership election, because they have not been members since 12 January 2016, would be unlawful as in breach of contract.'

While the claimants celebrated their victory and Labour officials contemplated how to cope with the administrative headache that would ensue in sending out over 125,000 ballot papers, an appeal was lodged with the Court of Appeal.

Last week, David Goldstone QC, acting for Labour's general secretary, Iain McNicol, told the three-person panel of justices that the NEC was the 'ultimate arbiter as to the meaning of the rules'.

In handing down the judgment, Lord Justice Beatson agreed and held that 'it was clear that the NEC has power to impose a freeze date on the commencement of the election process or a later date' as it had the 'power to set the criteria for members to be eligible to vote'.

The judgment read: 'A member's entitlement to vote in a leadership election is not a product of him or her simply being a member, but is the result of him or her being a member who satisfies the precise eligibility criteria defined by the NEC and any freeze date provisions set by the NEC in the timetable for the election.'

Corbyn's camp were disappointed with the decision. His spokesman added: 'Serious questions must be raised... over why and how the NEC Procedures Committee brought this appeal. In doing so, it effectively risked new members' money on an attempt to disenfranchise them. If we are to build a big, inclusive party to take on the Tories, we need to secure democracy in our party.'

The NEC chairman, Paddy Lillis, welcomed the court's ruling. 'It is crucial to the Labour party that our governing body has the authority to debate, decide, and implement the procedures, timetable, and voting eligibility for our internal elections and selections.

'The original court decision had wide-ranging implications for the party and the authority of our governing body. It was the correct decision to seek clarification on this fundamental principle in the Court of Appeal.'

Categorised in:

Local government Courts & Judiciary