Have your say on the disciplinary process

We want your views on how to improve the party’s independent complaints process.

Any organisation with a hundred thousand members will have conflicts: what matters is how we deal with them. Wherever possible the process needs to be quick and effective – and it must always be transparent, fair and independent of political influence. It is key that if someone actions are damaging to other party members or members of the public, they can’t expect to be protected by who they know or what role they hold in the party. 

When conference voted for a new independent complaints’ procedure at Autumn Conference 2018, members voted to put these principles into action. 

The new process introduced in July 2019 is much more transparent – with published rules and regular reports of its outcomes reported by the independent Lead Adjudicator to conference. It is independent of the federal party, being run by volunteers who don’t hold party office. 

Unfortunately, though, a combination of poor administration in its first year meant it was not quick or effective for a lot longer than was expected. Some members have also found the published rules too legalistic and difficult to follow.  

At Spring Conference 2021, members voted again to look at the complaints process and that is what we want to do now. We want to hear from party members about how they want it to change. Whether you’ve been involved in a complaint (as a complainant, respondent, supporter, witness or volunteer) or not, if you have thoughts on how we can improve the process please let us know.

The recent independent report on the Conservative Party’s approach to complaints  highlights how important it is to fix things quickly when they go wrong. 

Help us to do the same.

You can get to the consultation here.

* The Disciplinary Sub Group oversees the administrative aspects of the disciplinary process (including training and drafting guidance). It has no input into individual cases. It has members from all state parties - the current members are Alice Thomas, Candy Piercy, Simon McGrath, Stephen Harte, April Preston and Cadan Ap Thomas.

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12 Comments

  • Denis Mollison 31st May '21 - 9:02pm

    Our present process is inappropriate for a liberal party, and needs to be drastically cut back. At present, it appears to be possible for an individual to make a complaint against any Lib Dem party member to the effect that they find a remark or written comment offensive – possibly calling it `hate speech’ – when it was not directed at them personally. And they can do this under protection of anonymity. The person complained of may be suspended and put through a lengthy process.
    This procedure is an invitation to turn disagreements into anonymous harassment, and a liberal party should not countenance it.
    This kind of offence – if it is one – should be left to the public legal system.

    A much higher bar needs to be set for the party to take notice of complaints. Obviously anything which involves harassment or bullying of staff or members in official positions should be taken very seriously. In such cases the protection of anonymity for complainants will often be justifiable. It is also reasonable to have a complaints procedure to consider statements or speeches given on behalf of the party that bring the party into disrepute.

  • Hi Denis – anonymity always causes strong feelings on both sides – some think it’s essential to a process that allows people to whistle blow effectively, and indeed that’s why conference voted for an amendment in September 2018 to look at ways to allow fully anonymous complaints.

    The current process doesn’t allow full anonymity (the complainant has to give their personal details to the Party for the complaint to be accepted, they just aren’t shared with the Respondent).

    It also doesn’t assume anonymity – it has to be requested by the complainant, and they only do so in about 1/5th of cases.

    Finally, it doesn’t allow anonymity to be used to prevent natural justice – if a Complainant’s identity needs to be revealed to investigate the complaint, then they are given the choice. If they’d rather remain anonymous the complaint has to be dropped.

  • I filled in the survey but it’s a bit limiting. For a start, I have been involved in the process, but as a local party Chair who had complaints against local members, but the form doesn’t allow for me to comment on that basis. I don’t think the party has properly considered the interaction with local parties who may need to enforce the outcome of a complaint, and communicate it to others.

  • Hi Nick – thanks, that’s a very good point. We want to hear your experiences so if you feel you weren’t able to give them in full on the typeform please email [email protected] with any further thoughts.

  • Nigel Scott 5th Jun '21 - 8:55am

    The party’s complaints system is being used for ideological reasons to prevent debate about legitimate political differences. I have been targeted twice, one case dismissed, the other still under investigation. All the speakers on one side of a debate at last year’s Autumn Conference were targeted in this way. The cases were rightly dismissed. The investigator made the comment that if a motion is up for debate, it can’t be acceptable to complain about everyone on one side of the argument. The process takes too long. I know of one case that has been dragging on for years. This is contrary to natural justice.

  • Lloyd Harris 6th Jun '21 - 10:03am

    I fear the talk of vexatious complaints covers the fact that we need a safe place for people who are victims of bullying, harassment and intimidation to feel free they will be heard in a safe way that doesn’t mean they get further abuse and have to leave the party they love.

  • Nigel Scott 7th Jun '21 - 11:47am

    At present, accused members are told that they must not reveal that they have been charged or are involved in a quasi judicial prosecution at all. This makes the process similar to the notorious secret courts of Northern Ireland.

  • Jonathan Coulter 7th Jun '21 - 5:47pm

    I think some serious problems have been raised in the above comments. I look forward to hearing how the disciplinary sub-group plans to deal with them.

  • Stephen Brooks 10th Jun '21 - 2:05pm

    I am in the same position as Nick Baird. I am a Vice Chair asked by the Party to try and get a resolution of a series of trivial and malicious complaints made against a number of members. I have analysed the complaints procedure in detail and have identified a number of serious design faults.
    1. The procedure is unfairly biased in favour of the complainant and gives insufficient regard to the Party’s duty of care to the respondent. A Pastoral Care Officer (PCO), a full-time member of staff, is automatically appointed to support the Complainant. The PCO is “not in a neutral position” and so they are not involved in the administration of the complaints procedure. Yet the PCO is responsible for “publishing guidelines and making suitable and appropriate safeguarding measures” The PCO also has a formal role in determining confidentiality and anonymity. This contrasts with the Respondent’s entitlement to a Mentor, who is a volunteer, appointed only on request and with no role in determining how the complaint is handled.
    2. The procedure is open to vexatious complaints made with the intention of damaging local parties. The procedure is open to anyone to make a complaint about anything against a member. Our members have been subject to a series of trivial complaints by someone who is not a member and who is clearly acting in concert with a Labour Party member.
    3. The procedure almost invites trivial complaints. There is no requirement to indicate which rules have been broken. Nor is there a requirement for the complaint, if upheld. to justify any action being taken.
    4. There are no time limits. – we have received complaints about things alleged to have taken place two years ago. Respondents are required to produce evidence, witnesses etc. to refute the complaint without revealing that a complaint has been made!
    5. It all takes too long. We have a complaint outstanding since Nov 2019 (one of the first made under the new process) – nothing appears to have happened. There doesn’t seem to be anything we can do as a party to get the adjudicator to make a decision one way or another.
    I have seen for myself the stress this puts on party members, sometimes vulnerable people themselves, who are subject to complaints that pile up and drag on endlessly. My worry is that our Party will allow itself to become the instrument that pushes someone over the edge and we will face a suicide.

  • The current process says that pastoral care/support should be available to anyone involved in a complaint – but at the moment we don’t even have one Pastoral Care Officer, and to provide genuinely unconflicted support and advice to anyone in a complaint we would need at least two.

    At the moment if you are notified of a complaint against you you are pointed at something called ‘Health Assured’, which turns out to be a third-party ‘wellbeing’ service to which we have apparently outsourced this function. I very much doubt whether it knows anything about our complaints process. And if I’m the worried subject of a potentially very nasty complaint, I’m unlikely to get in touch with an outside agency to get advice on what to do next.

  • Denis Mollison 11th Jun '21 - 7:57am

    Steve Brooks spells out in detail what I was alluding to.

    We need a fundamental review that looks at the kind of complaints that have been made – it looks as though we have by now a far too large body of data on this! – and ask: why should we waste time and money, or put stress on members, when public debate and access to the law (civil and criminal) are available to complainants?

    There will be offences that the party’ has to deal with itself, for example bullying or harassment of party staff. But as a liberal party we should minimise what our complaints procedure covers, and encourage free speech to flourish.

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