The Labour Party has won its appeal against a High Court ruling that overturned an NEC decision to apply a six month membership cut-off for voting in the leadership contest.
The outcome has been welcomed by Paddy Lillis, chair of the NEC, who this afternoon said it was “crucial” the party’s ruling body should maintain authority over confirming the timetable for a leadership election. However, Corbyn’s camp had supported the action against the party’s decision and a spokeserson for the campaign described today’s appeal verdict as wrong “both legally and democratically.”
Last month, Labour’s NEC determined that no one who joined the party after January 12 would be able to vote in the leadership contest. Five new members affected by the decision took the party to court, and on Monday a High Court judge ruled in their favour.
Labour appealed the ruling, saying it needed to defend the right of the NEC in this area, and today the appeal proved successful. The party is looking to recoup £30,000 towards the legal costs from the five who brought the case, who look set to be unsuccessful in their hopes to take the action onto the Supreme Court.
Usdaw’s Paddy Lillis, the current chair of Labour’s NEC, said:
“The Labour Party welcomes the decision of the Appeal Court. The Party has said consistently throughout this process that we would defend vigorously the decisions of the NEC.
“It was right that the Party appealed the judgement on the freeze date, just as we would have appealed if the Court in the previous case did not uphold the NEC decision that the incumbent Leader of the Labour Party did not require nominations.
“It is crucial to the Labour Party that our governing body has the authority to debate, decide and implement the procedures, timetable and voting eligibility for our internal elections and selections.
“The original Court decision had wide-ranging implications for the party and the authority of our governing body. It was the correct decision to seek clarification on this fundamental principle in the Court of Appeal.”
Corbyn’s team believe they would have been the main beneficiaries of the 130,000 extra votes, and a campaign spokesperson has responded angrily to the news.
“We think that this is the wrong decision – both legally and democratically,” they said. “The Court’s ruling disenfranchises nearly 130,000 Labour members, who joined the party since January and were explicitly told that they would have a vote in any leadership election.
“Crucial to the outcome today was the introduction of a new argument by the Labour Party HQ’s lawyers, who invoked an obscure clause in the Labour Party rules (Chapter 4, Clause II, 1.A), which could be read as giving the NEC the right to ignore all of the rules laid out for leadership elections. In other words, this is a ‘make it up as you go along’ rule. We do not think that making it up as you go along is a reasonable way to conduct democracy in our party.
“Serious questions must be raised, however, over why and how the NEC Procedures Committee brought this appeal. In doing so, it effectively risked new members’ money on an attempt to disenfranchise them. If we are to build a big, inclusive party to take on the Tories, we need to secure democracy in our party.”
Owen Smith also commented on the news, saying: “I had welcomed the prospect of 125,000 additional members being given the opportunity to vote in this vitally important leadership election.
“The decision of the Appeal Court today doesn’t change my approach to this contest; I am getting on with the job of talking to as many members and supporters across the country as possible and making the case for a united, radical and credible Labour Party.”