The Party’s disciplinary processes – justice delayed is justice denied?

It sometimes seems as though the Party has been adjusting its internal conduct and discipline system since its foundation. And, of course, you have to have one because not everyone is reasonable, and people don’t always behave reasonably towards each other in an organisation where the idea is to convince people of the rightness of your views, to win the argument, if you like.

The problem is that, with any process, you have to supply the resources to make it work, and if the experiences of too many people are to be believed, that simply isn’t the case currently. It would be very easy to blame the professional staff responsible for managing the system but, from painful personal experience, I can vouch that they are too few in number to manage the flow of complaints, and too dependent on volunteers to fill all of the roles that the process requires.

What that means is that cases disappear into the ether, satisfying neither complainant or respondent, leaving the matter hanging over them for months and, sometimes, years, as investigators need to be found, as well as at least five members of a disciplinary hearing panel and, if necessary, an appeal panel, all of whom must be independent and without conflict of interest. Most of all, they have to willing to serve and have the spare time to allow them to meet the proscribed timetable. That’s not easy, as it tends to be busy people who end up having to be asked.

There is, as I’ve already noted, a proscribed timetable, but it can be relaxed by the State Appeals Panel, and often is, simply to allow the process to continue to a conclusion. But, if that conclusion is delayed, it can feel that the whole process offers little comfort.

What can be done?

Ultimately, what we’ve learned over the years is that a well-managed, transparent, conduct and discipline system is an essential part of managing a political party. There has to be a way to challenge, and sanction, bad or inappropriate behaviour, especially when it might impact on adherence to the various legal requirements placed on political parties, but members and activists also have the right to be protected from mistreatment. The Party therefore has to make a greater effort to create the resource base necessary to manage the system it has created, to ensure that justice is swift and efficient, and that means the State Parties and, in England, the Regional Parties, to establish a database of those able and willing to contribute their skills and knowledge in order to serve the cause of party management.

In addition, the progress of complaints needs to be communicated better, so that complainants don’t get the feeling that they’re being ignored, or stalled. Swift justice also reminds offenders that their actions aren’t without consequences and that their behaviour hurts others and it hurts the Party.

It was supposedly William Gladstone who was first attributed with the phrase “justice delayed is justice denied”. He might not have recognised the world in which we have to operate, but the principle he espoused then is as true now as it ever was.

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


  • Paul Fisher 8th Mar '21 - 7:46pm

    A good article with particular resonace in view of anybody who has been subject to a malicious accusation. Over 800 cases overall is a figure wich is on the rumour circuit; that cannot be true, can it?

  • @Paul Fisher
    As of July 2019 complaints and disciplinary matters have been in the hands of the new system. The English state and regional parties no longer have any direct involvement with this, as far as issues with individual members are concerned. They do still nominate members to the English Appeals Panel – but that does not handle appeals arising from cases which have gone through the new system.

    The new system has received a very large number of complaints and experienced a considerable backlog in its earlier stages, but most of this is now under control and individual cases are being dealt with more quickly. The number of currently outstanding cases is a great deal smaller than the number you suggest (which may be closer to the total number of complaints received).

  • One answer to the numbers would of course be for less people to make complaints. I have certainly been aware of members using the process to get at people whose views they dislike or where the person complained about felt it had to do with a personal grudge. Under the new system, I have the impression that “frivolous” ot what in the legal system would be called “vexatious” complaints are dismissed quite quickly. I hope this continues to be the case. I am aware of historic cases that have dragged on for months or years and then sometimes been dismissed – they would certainly fit Mark’s description of “justice denied” for all parties.

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