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The Sales of Justice

by Philip Roddis

Please bear with me as I set the scene before getting to the point of this post …

On Thursday the Court of Appeal, in a ruling the Guardian called unexpected, overturned Monday’s High Court decision to allow disenfranchised Labour Party members to vote in the leadership election. Let’s briefly retrace the more recent steps that brought us to this point:

June 26. Corbyn sacks Hilary Benn for plotting against him. This triggers a wave of resignations by Labour frontbenchers in what many see as a planned coup.

July 10. Angela Eagle announces a leadership bid that hasn’t a prayer unless a crucial NEC vote (next point) goes her way.

July 12. It doesn’t. The NEC rules that incumbent leaders under challenge need not secure the 20% of PLP nominations their challengers must obtain in order to appear on the ballot. To the chagrin of some, it fails to avoid a conclusion a smart six year old would have come to: that incumbents may not be deemed challengers to their own leadership.

July 12. At the same meeting, after Corbybn and two supporters have left, a vote is taken on a proposal not on the agenda: that those who joined the party after January 12 will not be eligible to vote in September’s election. It was and still is assumed that of the 130,000 thus disenfranchised, most would be pro Corbyn.

July 14. Millionaire Michael Foster brings a legal challenge to the first July 12 decision.

July 28 Mr Justice Foskett finds against him, saying an incumbent is not subject to a rule explicitly framed for challengers.

July 25. Christine Evangelou and four other post January 12 members launch a legal bid to overturn the cut-off rule, claiming breach of contract.

August 7. Mr Justice Hickinbottom finds for Evangelou. The 130,000 seem set to benefit.

August 7. NEC decides to appeal. Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell decries a ‘misuse of funds’ but NEC chair Paddy Lillis insists ‘the party has a right to defend its processes’.

August 8. In NEC elections, all six contested posts decided by rank and file members go to the Corbyn supporters recommended by Momentum.

August 11. Lord Justice Beatson, with Lady Justice Macur and Lord Justice Sales, overturns Hickinbottom’s August 7 ruling, saying the matter is for the NEC alone to determine. Ms Evangelou and the others must pay £30k in costs.

Oddly enough the indefatiguably hostile Polly Toynbee, serial tub thumper under such headers as “Dismal, lifeless, spineless Corbyn lets us down again”, lifted the spirits of his support base after the Beatson ruling. In the Guardian next day she correctly argues, in that dull and narrow way of hers, that the August 11 decision could work for a Corbyn unlikely to need those 130,000 votes to see off Eagle Smith next month. Given the pro Corbyn tilt to the NEC conferred by the August 7 results, Polly thinks Beatson has set a case law precedent favourable to Jeremy.

Not that I’m fool enough to set much store by that. To date the jet sprays of cyanide have come from the PLP and party grandees – and from corporate media whose outpourings of poison are without precedent in respect of a new leader. But the Establishment as a whole has held its fire. Muttered threats aside, the full might of our ruling class* – Bank of England, The City, Judiciary, Police and armed forces whose sworn fealty is to a monarch constitutionally entitled to dismiss by fiat His/Her Government – has not been needed. That will change should Corbyn win office. To those who put their trust in rule of law and sovereignty of parliament I say this: get yourself in front of a screening of the Chris Mullins film, A Very British Coup.

As a taster of what that shadowy matrix can pull off, let’s zoom in on one of the three judges to uphold the NEC appeal on Thursday. Philip Sales QC was appointed by Tony Blair on his 1997 victory. (In case you’d forgotten, that was on the back of the first Labour manifesto ever to omit the word socialism. Many of those who now oppose Corbyn believe the 1997 win – premised on capturing the centre without losing the core vote – can be repeated with a ‘moderate’ leader and manifesto. It can’t when, as Scotland shows, Britain is now a more divided nation following two decades of unbridled neoliberalism. Just as the centre may swing to the Tories or LibDems, so may that once core vote go now to SNP or UKIP.)

But back to the Lord Sales Blair fast-tracked in a manner described thus by the Guardian, 1999:

“..Tony Blair and his Lord Chancellor, Derry Irvine, will be plunged into a fresh row over cronyism as new evidence emerges of how government jobs are handed out.

An industrial tribunal is investigating how a barrister from Irvine’s old chambers – where Tony Blair and Cherie Booth also worked – was appointed to the coveted post of Treasury ‘Devil’ – one of the chief barristers who act for the state in the civil courts.

The 1997 appointment of the 35-year-old Sales caused astonishment among senior lawyers because he was ‘exceptionally young’ for a high-profile job regarded as a near-certain route to becoming a High Court judge. Sales had much less experience in public law than three front-runners who were passed over. One barrister, Josephine Hayes, claims the Government was guilty of sex discrimination in the way it appointed Sales.

Despite fierce opposition from senior judges, Hayes’s lawyers have obtained details of ‘secret soundings’ taken before his appointment. They reveal a ‘network of old boys and cronies’ to show ‘there was no coincidence that the appointment came from Lord Irvine’s and Tony Blair’s old chambers’…”

Less charitable souls might ask whether Lord Sales had been granted an opportunity, last Thursday, to show his gratitude to Lady Fortune. We steel city scribblers couldn’t possibly comment.

* For all the changes capitalism – instable yet extraordinarily adaptive – has undergone since 1867, we find Marx’s definition of a ruling class still the most useful. A ruling class is defined by monopoly ownership of something essential to wealth production: typically land, slaves, irrigation or capital.

11 Comments

  1. michaelk says

    This is an… unusual ruling because, normally (do we live in normal times anymore?) the courts are loathe to get involved in internal party politics and the arcane rules and practices involved therein. Normally, the courts prefer to let the politicans settle their differences on their own.

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  2. Jim Porter says

    This has become a complete farce as it must be almost impossible to get a judge presiding in a case like this not to have a conflict of interest and I thought that any judge with an interest in politics would be conflicted and have to declare that conflict – unless there were many judges with differing political backgrounds to give a balanced political view overall. Has the law changed?

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    • John says

      I thought the title of this article was intriguing. It could have been a misspelling of Scales of Justice or been read as Justice for Sale. Of course, what it does refer to is the role of the judge Sales, who is a long-time associate of Tony Blair.
      There were two other judges involved in arriving at the decision but we know little or nothing about them.
      It is impossible to speculate on what motivated them in arriving at the joint decision.
      All we do know is that the original High Court decision – granting Labour Party members who joined after January 12th the right to vote in the Labour Leader election – was based on an interpretation of Contract Law but that new and – arguably – spurious material was introduced before the Appeal Court judges based on a questionable interpretation of the Labour Party Rule Book, which clearly had nothing to do with Contract Law.
      This outcome has shades of trying to get a room full of economists or psychologists to agree on anything or using certain types of opinion polls, where you get results that you pay for being delivered. Did that happen here?
      There are a set of 7 principles relating to public office known as the Nolan Principles:
      1.Selflessness
      2.Integrity
      3.Objectivity
      4.Accountability
      5.Openness
      6.Honesty
      7.Leadership
      You can see more detail relating to the principles at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-7-principles-of-public-life/the-7-principles-of-public-life–2.
      It seems to me that under these principles, Sales should have excluded himself from the proceedings.
      Why he did not, only he can explain.
      Ultimately, his behaviour may end up undermining confidence in the UK legal system.
      His peers may find themselves having to correct his and his colleagues actions at some future stage.

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  3. John says

    Sales practiced as a barrister in Irvine’s chambers alongside Blair, also then a barrister.
    They go way way way way back.
    It was not even the 31-person NEC which appealed against the High Court ruling but the very much smaller 11-person Procedures Committee. The party’s general secretary, Iain McNicol, is the procedure committee’s returning officer. Others on the committee include Ann Black, Keith Birch, Diana Holland, Jim Kennedy, Paddy Lillis, Ellie Reeves, Mary Turner, Tom Watson, Margaret Beckett and Glenis Willmott. All names of shame to remember.
    A tiny tiny tiny little clique of 11 people over-riding the wishes of way more than 500,000 party members.
    What do we call that?

    Liked by 1 person

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