Women-only policy 'dead' for Labour

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The Independent Online

Political Correspondent

Labour's policy of reserving parliamentary seats for women seemed as good as dead yesterday, as legal experts cast doubt on the party's declaration that it was "almost certain" to appeal against Monday's industrial tribunal ruling that the policy is unlawful.

One lawyer with experience of industrial tribunal cases said he thought Labour's chances of overturning the decision on appeal were "not good".

Peter Jepson, the part-time law lecturer who brought the case against the party, warned yesterday that an appeal against Monday's ruling by Leeds Industrial Tribunal would be a "running sore" over the coming months, in the run-up to a general election.

Stephen Grosz, an employment law specialist with the solicitors Bindmans, said an appeal would probably be taken under a fast-track procedure for urgent matters of public interest. "The Employment Appeals Tribunal might take notice of the fact that there might be an election fairly soon," Mr Grosz said.

An "expedited" appeal casecould be heard within one month, but might run for six months.

Another lawyer described Sir John Mummery, president of the Employment Appeals Tribunal, which would hear the appeal, as a "loose cannon, seriously unpredictable".

However, some Labour sources said that a defeat on appeal would compound the party's embarrassment, and Tony Blair, the Labour leader, has, in any case, always been less than enthusiastic about the women-only policy.

The Labour Party has suspended its remaining 14 women-only selections while it decides whether to appeal, and will come under pressure from activists in a number of constituencies where an all-woman shortlist has already been imposed not to do so.