The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) will soon release its report, following a lengthy investigation into whether the Labour Party committed discriminatory and unlawful acts in relation to antisemitism in the party.
What is the EHRC and what are its powers?
The EHRC is a statutory non-departmental public body created by the 2006 Equality Act to support organisations in challenging discrimination and protecting human rights. It has statutory powers to take action against those that fail to comply with its rulings. In this instance, Section 20 of the Equality Act 2006 allows the EHRC to carry out investigations intoorganisations suspected of committing unlawful discrimination.
What is the EHRC investigating?
The election of Jeremy Corbyn as Leader of the Labour Party set in motion a crisis of antisemitism. The Party’s structures, ahead of a surge in membership in 2015, were not equipped to deal with the influx of complaints related to antisemitism. The resourcing of the complaints team was limited and the disciplinary process dogged with political manipulation and bureaucracy. Several high profile cases of antisemitism – Ken Livingstone, Jackie Walker and others – were not dealt with to even the most minimal standards expected of the Labour Party.
The terms of reference of the EHRC investigation make it clear that it is looking at whether the Labour Party or individuals acting on its behalf have committed discriminatory and unlawful acts against some of its members, including Jewish members.
This is the first time that a political party has been subject to an investigation at this level by the EHRC, and only the second time such an investigation has happened, the first being a probe of the Metropolitan Police. Using its legal powers, the EHRC was able to demand all relevant communications from the Party and individuals, and to allow current and former members of staff to break confidentiality clauses in employment contracts and non-disclosure agreements.
Why is the EHRC investigating?
Following several years of repeated attempts to engage constructively with Jeremy Corbyn and his office, the Jewish Labour Movement compiled a submission to refer the Labour Party to the EHRC in autumn of 2018. This followed one of the defining moments of the last few years in the summer of 2018, during which the Labour Party failed to adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism - the internationally and domestically agreed definition of anti-Jewish racism - and the revelation of Jeremy Corbyn’s supportive comments about the antisemitic Mear One mural, feturing hooked-nosed Jews playing games on the back of the workers.
Following the JLM referral in autumn 2018, we understand the EHRC began to directly engage with the Labour Party. This is standard practise for the EHRC. Only after that engagement did the EHRC decide in March 2019 that the issues referred to it met the organisation’s high threshold for a statutory investigation. JLM is considered by the EHRC to be a third party complainant. Whilst we have maintained positive working relations with the EHRC, we have not been privy to any of the EHRC’s work beyond our own submissions.
There are several other submissions to the EHRC – including from the Campaign Against Antisemitism. In addition, significant numbers of organisations and individuals have also made submissions to the EHRC investigation. The content of these other submissions differs from JLM’s, which focuses on the consequences of antisemitism on the impacted party, and core focus of the EHRC investigation: Jewish Labour members.
The final report of the EHRC when published is likely to have a significant impact on both the Labour Party and the wider Jewish community.
JLM compiled an extensive and detailed submission containing a large quantity of primary evidence from Labour Party members on their experiences in local meetings, online and relating to the complaints process. JLM assisted the submission of 70 whistleblower testimonies, with supporting documentary evidence, from current and former Labour Party staff, and elected officials from all parts of the party.
What happens next?
Following the completion of the EHRC report, the Commission sent a draft copy to the Labour Party and gave it a minimum of 28 days to provide written comments in reply. During that time period normal practice would allow anyone named in the report also to receive the sections in which they are mentioned. If the EHRC finds that the Labour Party has committed unlawful acts, such as discrimination, harassment or victimisation of Jewish members, it can issue an unlawful act notice which details the breach and recommends any steps to rectify it. It can also require an action plan to be prepared by the Labour Party.