A former senior Labour staffer, who was named in the controversial internal report that was distributed to the media and online last year, is pursuing legal action in a bid to reveal the identities of those who leaked the document.
An 860-page document, known as the ‘Labour leaks’ report, focused on poor relations between the leader’s office and Labour headquarters when Corbyn was leader and Iain McNicol served as general secretary.
An unredacted version was leaked online and to journalists in April 2020, leading to legal action by those named in the report. Emilie Oldknow, who was a Labour executive director, is one of those taking the party to court over the matter.
In a hearing today, Oldknow’s barrister William Bennett QC said the leaked report was a “one-sided factional attack” on ex-staffers that “wrongly sought to blame” them for Jeremy Corbyn losing a general election.
“It was a politically-motivated hatchet job,” Oldknow’s lawyer told the court, before highlighting that the Labour Party had “quite rightly decided” that it should not be published outside of Labour headquarters.
The QC added that the former senior staffer represented by him is seeking to “bring to account” those who “anonymously” and “surreptitiously” leaked the internal report against the wishes of the party.
The Labour Party does not want to reveal information about the leakers without being ordered to do so by the court, it was confirmed today. This has led to Oldknow applying for a ‘Norwich Pharmacal order’ to force disclosure.
Labour’s barrister Anya Proops QC also explained to the court that the party wanted an adjournment because it believes “affected third parties” should be able to set out their position on the Norwich Pharmacal order application.
The affected third parties are five individuals who are accused of leaking the internal report last year. Currently anonymous and represented by Carter-Ruck, the individuals deny responsibility for the leak.
The ‘Carter-Ruck five’, as they are referred to by Oldknow’s lawyer, claim that the internal Labour investigation of the report leak was inconclusive and that there is “no smoking gun” showing that they are responsible for the leak.
The Labour Party argued today that it did not want to directly identify those who leaked the report, as this would invite political controversy. It was also worried that the ‘affected individuals’ could sue the party for wrongful disclosure.
Labour’s barrister Anya Proops QC told the hearing, however, that the party – if ordered to do so by the court – would be willing to disclose underlying factual information enabling Oldknow to identify those responsible for the leak.
Describing the party as being in a “delicate piggy-in-the-middle position”, Labour’s lawyer said the leak was “unquestionably wrongful” and contained private correspondence that “ought never to have entered the public domain”.
Jacob Dean, representing those accused of leaking the report, said his clients should not have to disclose their identities to address the court. He suggested they could be named as Unite the Union, which is supporting their legal costs.
A Unite spokesperson commented afterwards that the union “offers all of our members representation in respect of employment matters” and that the application is a “balance” between employee rights and the rights of those named in the report.
The union said its five members “deny leaking of the report” and “participated in good faith with the Labour Party investigation on the understanding the investigation would be confidential and protect their rights to privacy”.
The judge ruled this afternoon that the five anonymous individuals could not intervene in the case. The hearing continues on Tuesday morning, when the judge will reveal her decision on the disclosure application.
If the ‘Norwich Pharmacal order’ is granted and the party provides information that it says would show the identities of the leakers, Oldknow would be expected to pursue legal action against the individuals.
The ‘Labour leaks’ report included emails and WhatsApp messages between HQ staffers, which allegedly provided evidence of strong anti-Corbyn views held by top employees, including comments describing violence.
The Forde Inquiry, an independent investigation into the leaked report commissioned by Labour’s ruling body, recently announced that its conclusion has been delayed indefinitely to avoid prejudicing an investigation by the Information Commissioner’s Office.
Nine Black Labour MPs, including shadow cabinet member Marsha de Cordova and frontbencher Chi Onwurah, reacted by saying they were “disappointed and seriously concerned” by the repeated Forde Inquiry delays.
It was revealed earlier this month that some of the ex-officials suspended over the report, including Oldknow, have been or are in the process of being readmitted to the party, after their disciplinary cases were concluded by its ruling body.