Conference motion: Reforming our party’s disciplinary processes

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There is now a superb summary of all the conference motions on the Liberal Democrat website. This allows you to see, at a glance, the final passed motions, incorporating any passed amendments.

One really important motion was that on the party disciplinary process.

This process was initiated by a motion at 2016 conference to review the party’s disciplinary processes. There have been reviews conducted by Helena Morrissey, Ken MacDonald and Isabelle Parasram. The review was delayed by the 2017 general election. The process was debated at the 2018 Spring Conference, where it was referred back for further work.

The Federal Board has appointed a steering group on Sexual Impropriety Complaints, as recommended by Isabelle Parasram.

The motion at the Brighton conference seeks to set up an independent disciplinary mechanism with trained adjudicators and investigators. There will be a strict logging process for complaints, with time limits for resolution.

Two amendments to the motion were proposed and accepted by conference. The first was to set-up the option of anonymity for complainants where appropriate. The second was to make referrals to counselling services where appropriate.

Here is the complete motion, as passed:

F11: Business Motion: Reforming our Party’s Disciplinary Processes
Submitted by Federal Board
Mover: Alice Thomas | Summator: Shelia Ritchie

This motion applies to the Federal Party.

Conference notes:

The dedication and commitment of the volunteers and staff who have devoted valuable time and effort to ensuring the Party’s current disciplinary processes function.

That despite this, the large number of members who have previously expressed concerns regarding the Party’s current disciplinary processes, including as part of the Governance Review consultations in 2015 and 2016.

That party members voted at Autumn Conference 2016, in motion Towards a More Effective Party Governance that “there shall be a review of the disciplinary processes of the party”.

That Ken Macdonald QC, a former Director of Public Prosecutions, was appointed to carry out this review (known as ‘the Macdonald Review’), and that Isabelle Parasram was appointed to undertake a special investigation into the Complaints Handling Processes in cases of sexual impropriety, the conclusions of which have been incorporated into the Macdonald Review’s recommendations.

The delays in acting on the review caused by the snap 2017 general election.

The urgency of action now being taken to implement the review given the sexual harassment allegations made against members of all political parties.

The debate and reference back at Spring Conference 2018, where speakers asked for more detail on how the new system would work, as well as concerns about a number of issues, addressed in the sections below.

That the Federal Board has appointed a steering group on Sexual Impropriety Complaints, as recommended by Isabelle Parasram in her Special Investigative Report, to:

Build upon the current support system for complainants by ensuring the Morrissey recommendations are fully implemented including as applicable during all stages of the Complaints Procedure.

Review and regularly update the Party’s policy on anonymity, as published in draft form along with this business motion.

Review and regularly update the Party’s policy on police referrals, as published in draft form along with this business motion.

Create a guidance manual to support and supplement the general guidance on the Complaints Procedure for those tasked with adjudicating or investigating sexual impropriety complaints.

Devise an initial training programme to support and supplement the general training on the Complaints Procedure for those involved in the handling of sexual impropriety complaints, with regular refresher courses.

Advise the Party on an ongoing basis on conveying its stance and approach to incidents of sexual impropriety to every member in a more effective manner.

Review the handling of cases involving allegations of serious sexual impropriety on an ongoing basis.

Report back to the Federal Board with initial training plans and guidance by December 2018.

Conference believes that:

For any new complaints process (the ‘Complaints Procedure’) to command the confidence of members, it must be an independent, stand-alone process which is free from interference by the executive functions of the Party; is simple, transparent and efficient; and deals with complaints promptly, with clear lines of communication.

To ensure such a process functions adequately, all those involved in it must be properly trained to ensure high standards, and that the Party has a responsibility to resource this.

Such a process must be underpinned by a properly resourced system of informal resolution with trained Independent Persons, to be administered by the State Parties and coordinated with relevant staff at Party Headquarters.

The pool of individuals trained to carry out the complaints process (adjudicators) should have representation of underrepresented groups, in line with the guidelines for the membership of Party Committees laid out in Articles 2.5–2.7 of the Federal Party Constitution.

Conference therefore recommends that:

The Federal Board appoint a pool of no less than 40 adjudicators and 15 investigators, who shall be required to undergo an approval process and shall not sit on any regional, state or federal party committee, and that the Federal Board report their appointment to Conference.

The Federal Board submit for approval by Conference:
A Lead Adjudicator, who shall act as a spokesperson for the disciplinary process and may provide advice to adjudicators where necessary, and;
Three Senior Adjudicators (one from each State Party) to be drawn from the pool of approved adjudicators to support the Lead Adjudicator in that role.

The team of the Lead and Senior Adjudicators be given the role of determining whether members should be suspended under the Complaints Procedure and, in addition, be empowered to refer cases to appeal on behalf of the Party, where the decision of a disciplinary panel risks damaging the Party’s reputation.

The State and Regional Parties be urged to create a co-ordinated system of informal resolution with trained independent persons, and to amend their constitutions in line with this motion and the accompanying constitutional amendments.

The training programme for independent persons, investigators and adjudicators be centrally co-ordinated, and include but not be limited to: training on how to investigate, adjudicate and/or mediate on cases involving under-represented groups, minors, allegations of sexual misconduct and/or abuse of power.

The Chief Executive of the Party create and appropriately staff a central mechanism through which complaints should be reported, along with a central log of all complaints and the actions or resolutions related to them, and that access to such a log be strictly controlled in line with relevant data protection regulations.

A strict timeline be enforced, normally lasting no longer than three months from the date of the complaint to its final resolution, with a mechanism for extensions in exceptional circumstances, and an expedited timeline for those cases involving clear and unmistakeable examples of the Party being brought into disrepute, such as a criminal conviction.

The Complaints Procedures be made publicly available, with relevant guidance documents provided to affected individuals at each stage of the complaints process.

Provision be made for the majority of the members of any disciplinary panel to come from the State Party which covers the person being complained of.

A support system be devised to ensure proper support is provided to both complainants and respondents, including referrals to counselling services where appropriate, going through the process.

To allow the necessary time for selection of adjudicators and their approval at conference in Spring 2019, the revisions to the Party’s disciplinary processes included in this motion and the corresponding constitutional amendments formally come into force on 1 July 2019, and that procedures for the handling of live cases be published in final form by 1 June 2019.

Routes should be set up to adopt a system so that complainants can log reports anonymously to the party, with the reports being accessible to the complainant, the Standards Officer, or such person who may replace the Standards Officer in any future version of the Disciplinary procedure. The Standards Officer must identify multiple reports about the same person or persons, and should draw them to the attention of the Lead Adjudicator. The Lead Adjudicator should then determine whether or not to advise complainants, so that they can consider whether or not to waive their anonymity thus allowing further investigation.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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