The High Court has ruled that 130,000 people who recently joined the Labour party could be allowed to cast a vote in the upcoming leadership election, in a move that many expect to be advantageous to Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign.
Lawyers representing a group of five, who have argued they have “paid their dues”, claimed their clients had been unfairly excluded from participating in the labour leadership contest. Stephen Cragg QC accused the party’s governing body, the National Executive Committee, of unlawfully “freezing” them and many others out of the election process between Mr Corbyn and his challenger Owen Smith, the former shadow work and pensions secretary.
The case was triggered by an NEC decision last month that full members would not be able to vote if they had not a least six months’ continuous membership up to July 12 – the so-called “freeze date”. The five members, who have crowdfunded their legal fees, are making the case on behalf of the 130,000 Labour supporters affected by the NEC decision.
A Labour spokesman said: "It is right that the Labour Party seeks to defend vigorously decisions of the National Executive Committee in this matter, and we will now study this judgment carefully.''
They refused to elaborate, however, on whether the party would appeal the High Court's decision. But Jon Tricket, a member of the NEC, wrote on Twitter: "Not been consulted about appeal. Time to spend money on opposing Tory government not on lawyers".
Appearing outside the court Christine Evangelou, a 41-year-old fitness instructor from Enfield, said she was “disgusted that they are trying to take away my vote” and added she had only recently joined the Labour party because she wishes to support Mr Corbyn and his “Labour values”.
Mr Cragg told Mr Justice Hickinbottom, the High Court judge, that members who had recently joined – or anyone looking at the Labour pary rulebook – would have concluded, having joined the party, there was nothing to stop them from voting.
“They paid their dues and found to their surprise they had been excluded from the present election,” he said,” he said. “We say they have been wrongly excluded by breach of contract from the right to vote. We say there is nothing in the Labour party rule book that suggests a limit on the members who can take part in the leadership election.”
Labour and its general secretary, Iain McNicol, argued the rules permit the July 12 freeze date and there has been no contractual breach or misrepresentation. Peter Oldham QC, representing the party, argued that the NEC had “specific power” to impose a freeze as party of its role in issuing an election timetable.
Two weeks ago the High Court ruled in favour of the Labour party and the NEC to keep Jeremy Corbyn on the ballot without having to seek nominations from his MPs – upholding the authority of the party’s governing body.
John McDonnell, the shadow Chancellor and chair of Mr Corbyn's campaign, said the judgement was a "huge victory" for members of the party. He added: "We are pleased the High Court has seen sense today by coming to the right decision.”
“We are appalled by the possibility of an unnecessary and costly appeal. If it is taken forwards, the Party will be using members money to try to stop members from voting. This is unacceptable. I’m calling on Owen Smith to join with us in backing party members and calling on the Labour Party not to appeal and attempt to disenfranchise members.”
“We are now calling on the Labour Party bureaucracy to act sensibly and play by the rules for rest of this leadership election."
Kate Harrison, solicitor for the claimants, said in a statement: "This case was about the right to vote under the Labour Party constitution, under which all members are equal and valued.
"This is a good day for democracy, a good day for my clients who are proud to be members of the party that stands for social justice, and a good day for the Labour Party. It is particularly important for young Labour Party members that the party constitution allows them to vote."
She added: "This case is not about who the members might vote for. It is about the equal right of all members to be heard in the leadership election process.
"I am sure the Labour Party is proud to have members who fight for the right to vote, and internal election processes that are thoroughly democratic and have helped to attract a membership that now stands at approximately 500,000."
A spokesperson for Mr Smith's campaign added: "I'm sure the party will want to study the judgement and determine its next steps. Owen is getting on with the job of putting his case to Labour members and supporters across the country."
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