Sal Brinton writes…How the party is addressing members’ concerns over harassment complaints

The Federal Board of the Liberal Democrats has met to discuss the concerns expressed by members of the party over the last few days. We considered what action should be taken to address these concerns, and also to let members know about changes that are in progress already.

I want to start by thanking everybody who has spoken up about harassment and sexual assault over the last few days. I know, from personal experience in the media when I was younger, that it is insidious, pervasive and demeaning and the effects never really leave you. Vince Cable and I remain very clear that there is no place for harassment and sexual assault inside the Liberal Democrats and we must have a zero tolerance approach to it.

That is why the serious allegations made by some members relating to rape and assaults in a case that is currently under investigation are very serious. Because the case is under way at the moment, the party cannot comment. However, we can look at some of the concerns raised by the complainants about where the process may have failed. That is urgent, and the Board recognises this.

Early in 2017 the Federal Board asked Lord Ken Macdonald, former Director of Public Prosecutions, to carry out a review of our current disciplinary processes for two reasons. Firstly, following the Morrissey Review the party constantly reviews its processes, but the Board was also  concerned to hear that some cases appeared to take too long, and that some processes were inconsistent. Ken was asked to think radically about a new process that would be seen as independent, fair, faster and accountable. The snap General Election halted the evidence he was taking, but the report is now nearing conclusion and will be presented to the Board in December, published to the party in January and then changes presented formally to Spring Conference.

We believe that many of the issues raised over the last few days are being considered, but there are some specific problems raised by the complainants in their case that we believe should be addressed, and the Board has agreed to ask Isabelle Parasram, a party member and barrister, to investigate these and report back swiftly to Ken Macdonald so he can consider and incorporate any recommendations that Isabelle Parasram may wish to make. These areas include support in the process for the complainants; anonymity for complainants; reporting serious crimes to the police; suspension of members following serious allegations and also, in light of Carl Sergeant’s death, how the party can support members appropriately who are accused of serious allegations.

Isabelle Parasram will have a member of support staff at HQ to help her with coordinating interviews and discussions, and the email address for the investigation is [email protected].uk

Jeanne Tarrant, our Pastoral Care Officer, remains available for complainants who need support. I want to make clear that, despite some comments online, she is not part of the disciplinary process: that is carried out by members. Jeanne can ask for special arrangements for a disciplinary hearing to ensure that complainants worried about their safety do not have to give evidence in front of the defendant. She has also accompanied them to hearings to provide that support, as well as keeping them up to date on where the process is. If you need to get in touch with her because you are a victim of harassment or assault or bullying, please do so:

Comments on this post will be pre-moderated.

* Baroness Sal Brinton is President of the Liberal Democrats. She is a working Lib Dem peer, and was the candidate for Watford at the 2010 and 2005 General Elections.

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  • The action being taken will reassure members that the party does take its duty of care seriously for victims and for alleged perpetrators.

  • Is it appropriate to encourage all historic instances of harassment or assault or even concerns about individuals to be reported to the pastoral care officer? Is she equipped to handle and collate reports against individuals within the party and identify patterns of behaviour? I’m inclined to think we should be encouraging members to report all historical instances of concern to an appropriate body so that we can take action against those who are making our party a hostile, uncomfortable environment for some. I’m thinking we need a mailing to all members that can lead to the identification of problematic individuals and appropriate handling of those individuals.

    It needs a big gesture to restore confidence.

  • Stephan Breban 12th Nov '17 - 8:59am

    Little and late. Not too little and not too late.

    There is a lot of confusion and a lot of ambiguity among certain parties.A lot of people are complaining that they don’t know where the line is drawn. I have my views, as I am sure we all do, but some clear guidelines are essential. As a school governor and a youth rugby coach you are given very clear guideline. Appropriately more stringent than for the wider public. Anyone in a position of authority, in ay work place has a responsibility to their employers and the people they oversee. To take advantage of a position of authority is wrong. Plain and simple. Flirting is a far more ambiguous prospect.

  • Some of this seems oddly keen to pass responsibility by the party board. One point really stuck out:

    “he can consider and incorporate any recommendations that Isabelle Parasram may wish to make. These areas include […]; reporting serious crimes to the police”

    If the party is receiving reports of people behaving in a criminal manner (not just “serious”) this should be passed to law enforcement to investigate. The party picking and choosing which crimes are properly investigated would be highly questionable.

    The party should only investigate the non-criminal or the additional action following the criminal process. These concepts are obvious and should have been set out at the outset. Any review should be focused on the difficult questions (mainly around where there is inappropriate behaviour rather than criminal or what additional actions after a criminal action) not wasting time on the easy ones.

    Does the federal board just out source all decision making, or does it at some point take responsibility for even the most obvious decisions? This seems to have become a trend of those in positions of responsibility just commissioning someone else to come up with a solution, it is sad that the LibDem Board is following that trend.

  • Mick Taylor 12th Nov '17 - 3:32pm

    This is an incredibly difficult area for any organisation, let alone a political party.A political party is not competent to judge such allegations and the police don’t want to. So the complainant always feels let down, because even issues of sexual harassment and worse are not seen to be dealt with promptly, or or worse they are belittled, disbelieved or ridiculed.
    So now there is a worrying trend to assume guilt and not to bother with a trial. If someone complains about an individual, guilt is assumed and the alleged perpetrator has their life ruined, without the issue of guilt or innocence being tested in the courts.
    My Liberal and Whig forebears fought long and hard against the Tories and the crown to establish the ‘habeas corpus’ rule and to establish the idea of innocent until proved guilty. Now some Liberal Democrats want to dispense with a trial and find people guilty on the basis of accusations. The trial by media that we are currently witnessing is contrary to the basic tenets of Liberalism and must be called out.
    Sexual harassment of any kind by anybody is wholly unacceptable. What is needed is to establish a system where the victims are confident in coming forward, knowing that they will not be belittled and that they will be taken seriously, kept anonymous if they wish it and supported through the process of getting justice. But we also need to provide support for those accused, because at least some of them are not guilty. Otherwise we will see more Carl Sergeants.
    It’s never easy being a Liberal and defending Liberal values. In the case of sexual harassment we must defend Liberal principles as well.

  • All this is commendable however I find it rather depressing that it takes the tragic death of a politician. a husband, father, grandfather for us to acknowledge there needs to be support for the accused in these situations. I do feel in the hyperbole that society has somewhat forgotten that whatever the misdemeanour we are dealing with human beings. And part of the process should be about helping people to change as well as condemnation and sanction. If our party can get the balance right and look for similar solutions in the broader picture of harassment etc then we’ll be giving something towards creating more respect in the future which will prevent harassment. ATM I feel that the end point is merely some scalps and vilification. The death of the minister in Wales should indeed be a wake up call but should it have to take such a tragedy for compassion to prevail? Society has left me disappointed for sometime on this. May be the lib Dems can help to restore some faith.

  • Stephan Breban 13th Nov '17 - 7:38am

    It is a difficult area to address, but it is far from impossible. Every business in the UK has a policy on bullying and harassment. Almost any of these would be a good start for any political organisation/council/parliament.

  • Ruth Bright 14th Nov '17 - 9:26am

    Mark’s reflection on political party as “family unit” is extremely useful. This is precisely why we need an independent system. It is fitting that we are compassionate about people who have been accused. But please do not lose sight of how corrosive it is for women to have to keep quiet for fear of being shut out from the “family unit”.

  • The party needs to accept that if this is done by volunteer party members within the party it will never be seen as providing justice by anybody – complainants or alleged perpetrators alike. It will also cause huge amounts of stress to those volunteer party members, for little thanks and no other benefit.

    There needs to be a truly external system, and we probably need to pay for it.

  • The High Castle 17th Nov '17 - 6:43pm

    The last thing it needs is a ‘big gesture’. Whatever happens has to be measured, proportionate and most of all just (a lot to ask in the current climate I know).

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