Proposed new party disciplinary procedures

I love working with a party that is so committed to giving everyone in society a voice. At the moment, though, our disciplinary process doesn’t live up to those values. Far too often it lets down those making complaints, those complained about – and the whole party. That’s why I’m moving business motion F11: Reforming our Party’s Disciplinary Processes at federal conference in September, a motion I hope you will support.

This reform has been a long time coming: for many years now, experts (yes, we Lib Dems still think there is value in experts!) have been looking at our systems for complaints and telling us they too see a system in urgent need of reform. Back in 2013, Helena Morrissey produced an independent report on the processes and culture of the Liberal Democrats. This was followed by the disciplinary review by Ken Macdonald, former Director of Public Prosecutions, in 2016-17, which in turn incorporated the recommendations from a separate review of party handling of complaints of sexual impropriety by barrister Isabella Parasram.

Each of them consulted with party members with experience of the pitfalls and flaws in the existing process, and in each case they came to the same conclusion many of you have: the current disciplinary process fails people.

It fails survivors and potential complainants, who don’t trust the party to listen to them and to protect them from abuse or misuse of their personal data. We’ve all heard stories of those who choose not to make a complaint, or to drop complaints, because the process is unwieldy, time consuming and emotionally draining. When legitimate complaints are never investigated, and members who behave poorly stick around to bully or abuse another day, we risk creating a culture that doesn’t reflect our values and we are weaker for it.

It fails both complainants and those who are complained against by leaving them in limbo for months in a process without clear time limits. Cases can run for years. We need a system that works to tight deadlines – as we know our party can – to keep processes to a maximum of a few months.

It also fails those who administer it. We are all volunteers, and we currently ask people to volunteer to mediate, investigate or adjudicate complaints often with minimal training and with training that is inconsistent between regions and parties.

The new process summarised in the short document sent along with your conference pack (or available on the party website here) will fix these concerns.

I know we’ve been here before – and recently. In Southport in March we brought a new process to conference which sought to bring all the recommendations into practice. It was referred back and so since then the plans have been revised and consulted on to address the concerns raised.

A key feature of the new system is that all complaints are collated into one complaints management system so that the party can keep track of how complaints are progressing, identify patterns of behaviour and identify vexatious complaints. Once a complaint has been logged, it is referred to a trained adjudicator who decides whether it is fit for dismissal, mediation, or investigation and a complaints panel hearing – and at every stage there are rights of appeal. It provides for a non-adversarial process, dealt with at the most appropriate level for the seriousness of the complaint. It provides for clear deadlines (with extension where absolutely necessary) and gives an independent team of Senior Adjudicators the right to suspend membership immediately on receiving a complaint. As before, it also uses the civil standard of proof – i.e. did the respondent commit the action or behaviour that brought the party into disrepute on the balance of probabilities – rather than the criminal standard.

Based on the further consultation done since spring conference this new system now:

• makes an independent team of Senior Adjudicators rather than the Party President responsible for appealing on behalf of the party if necessary;
• clearly sets out the party policy on reporting complaints to the police – implementing the legal advice the party has received and the recommendations from both the Committee on Standards in Public Life and the Cyril Smith inquiry – including what to do if the police might be investigating but will not provide information to the party;
• sets out how both complainants and respondents can access support throughout the process;
• comes with extensive additional guidance on how to balance anonymity and confidentiality with due process.

We’ve been talking about fixing this system for years now. I genuinely believe that F-11 is the best chance we will have to do just that. Let’s get it done.

* Alice Thomas is a member of the Federal Board and leads the FB Disciplinary Sub-Group. She is a solicitor based in Southwark who joined the Lib Dems in her hometown of Bromley & Chislehurst in 2006, just in time for her first by-election and has been campaigning ever since.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds and Party policy and internal matters.


  • Point 8 on lines 113-114 uses the plural for Complaints Procedures. Can I ask if this means that the procedures are intented to apply to all parts of the Party, including State Parties and Regional Parties? I note that a single register of complaints is to be created.

  • Alice Thomas 31st Aug '18 - 6:12pm


    The intention is to create one procedure that is used by all parties, and we have consulted with all of them (and had representatives from all of them involved in the small group working on this), so as far as I understand it is a system they are all happy to implement.

  • Ruth Bright 31st Aug '18 - 7:20pm

    Alice, against all advice from my family and inspired by the example of a young woman in the Labour Party I attempted a few weeks ago to report a complaint which dated back 16 years. I ended up bewildered, blocked and in tears. If a tough old thing like me can end up like that I dread to think how it works out for younger women who are less familiar with the party’s eccentric ways when it comes to such things.

    I do not know if what you are advocating provides all the answers but sincere thanks from a party member of 32 years for your efforts.

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