Shami Chakrabarti, the former director of Liberty, and the author of Labour’s report into antisemitism, has called on the party to appoint a general counsel or other staff lawyer, as well as a legal panel.
In the inquiry, published today (30 June), Chakrabarti recommends an urgent appointment in order to ‘give advice, including and in particular on disciplinary matters and to take responsibility for instructing external lawyers as appropriate.’
In a paragraph titled ‘general counsel’, Chakrabarti said the role of the general secretary of the Labour Party is under-supported ‘not least for the lack of a single in-house lawyer’ and although many lawyers in private practice have offered their services on a range of issues over the years, testimony to the inquiry ‘reveals the sheer inadequacy of the in-house resources in an organisation understandably primarily equipped for political campaigning rather than due process, whether at a regional or national level.’
In addition, Chakrabarti called for a five-year fixed term panel of lawyers to assist Labour’s National Constitutional Committee (NCC) in the discharge of its disciplinary functions.
‘Final decision-making by the elected NCC could be improved and given greater legitimacy by the creation of a panel of qualified lawyers who would assist in the determination of any disciplinary charge laid by party staff so as to ensure a fair hearing (including an oral hearing whenever requested).
‘This panel would be made up of volunteer lawyers of standing (barristers or solicitors of at least fifteen years post-qualification experience) and appointed so to achieve maximum confidence across the party,’ she added.
Chakrabarti departed the civil liberties advocacy group Liberty in March this year. Once labelled the ‘most dangerous woman in Britain’ by The Sun, Chakrabarti is known as a staunch public affairs lobbyist. Qualified as a barrister and having worked for the Home Office as a legal adviser between 1996 and 2001, work in recent years included protesting against the ban on sending books to prisoners, in a demonstration outside Pentonville prison in north London last year.