An application for forced disclosure of Labour Party documents – that Jeremy Corbyn’s legal team believes could prove there was a deal around his readmission to the party – was heard in a High Court hearing today.
The judge who heard the application, Master Sullivan in the Queen’s Bench Division of the High Court, has not yet delivered her judgment. She said she would do so “in writing as soon as I can”.
The lawyer instructed by the Labour Party in Corbyn v Evans, Rachel Crasnow QC, denied claims that a deal was reached with Keir Starmer’s team on Corbyn’s readmission to the party, saying “there is no agreement”.
She also told the hearing that there were “no notes” and “no minutes” from the meeting attended by Starmer, Angela Rayner, Morgan McSweeney, Unite’s Len McCluskey and Jon Trickett MP after Corbyn’s suspension.
Corbyn allies claim that this meeting later led to an agreement on the wording of Corbyn’s clarification statement, posted ahead of his readmission to Labour, and to an agreement that “no further sanction was to be imposed”.
Corbyn’s lawyer, Christopher Jacobs, argued that there are documents to disclose because there are “drafts and redrafts” of Corbyn’s second statement – released on the morning of Labour concluding his disciplinary case – in “messages and emails”.
LabourList understands that even if the pre-action disclosure application of Corbyn’s team is unsuccessful, a case will go ahead on the basis of the claim that the second whip suspension was not procedurally fair.
Corbyn’s barrister confirmed today that they would be applying for an injunction to restore the Labour whip immediately and stop a second investigation into the same matter that was already investigated by the party.
Asked for comment on the legal action by Sky News, Starmer said: “I don’t want to see the Labour Party tied up in court proceedings. I want to see the Labour Party out there campaigning.”
It was confirmed in the virtual court proceedings that the investigation by Labour’s governance and legal unit (GLU) into the original complaint against Corbyn did not find that he had engaged in prejudicial conduct.
The GLU decided – in the words of Corbyn’s lawyer – that there was “no prejudicial conduct”, “no overtly discriminatory language” and “no hostility or prejudicial intent” in the Facebook post that led to Corbyn’s suspension.
The GLU report stated that its probe “has not found that Mr Corbyn had engaged in conduct that is prejudicial”. It left the question of his conduct being “grossly detrimental” for a panel of Labour’s ruling body to decide.
Ahead of the potential litigation, the MP’s team submitted a pre-action disclosure application, saying the documents revealed would be a “vital ingredient” in their case and save costs (as the case would otherwise have to be amended).
“This is not a fishing expedition,” Corbyn’s barrister told the hearing. He argued that his client “doesn’t wish to make allegations of bad faith without closely examining the evidence” and therefore needs the disclosure.
The bad faith allegations are based on the Labour Party rulebook statement that members have the right “to be treated fairly by the Labour Party” and party officers must “exercise their powers in good faith”.
The judge Lisa, Sullivan replied, however, that the applicant has “a prima facie claim” outside of the bad faith allegation “on the basis of procedural unfairness”, as procedural fairness is also required by party rules.
Crasnow accused Corbyn’s lawyer of a “fishing expedition” and a “change of tack” in his latest arguments, and of emphasising the bad faith argument to “maximise the chances of pre-action disclosure”.
The former Labour leader is a party member but currently sits as an Independent MP because the whip has been suspended for three months pending an investigation conducted under Parliamentary Labour Party rules.
Corbyn was suspended in October after claiming that “the scale of the problem was… dramatically overstated for political reasons by our opponents”, but was reinstated as a member by Labour’s ruling body in November.
LabourList reported in November that Corbyn’s team was starting legal proceedings and preparing to submit a pre-action disclosure application in a bid to prove that there was a deal with Starmer’s office for the reinstatement.
A Labour source rejected this claim at the time, saying: “Any accusation that this was a deal or an attempt to determine the outcome of the [national executive committee] panel and disciplinary process is wrong.”
There is disagreement over whether there was “much more than lobbying” and a deal was brokered, as Corbyn claims, or there was dialogue to get Corbyn to apologise for the EHRC response but no deal, as Labour sources claim.
It was stated in the hearing that the next step of the Labour Party’s new process – via the Parliamentary Labour Party – is for Corbyn to meet Labour chief whip Nick Brown, and that this has not yet taken place.
Corbyn’s lawyer also told the hearing that 82 local parties have expressed support for the ex-leader and 37 members have been suspended as a result of what they have said in relation to issues around the suspension.