The Labour party should appoint a general counsel, former in-house lawyer Shami Chakrabarti has said following her two-month inquiry into racism in the party.
Chakrabarti, who stepped down as director of civil rights advocacy organisation Liberty earlier this year, says in her report: ‘As with other major British political parties, there is a lack of clarity and confidence in current disciplinary procedures from all sides of the party, including on the part of those who have complained and been complained against.
‘Whilst my remit is racism, I believe that the recommendations that I make here are of wider applicability to all aspects of discipline and to the relationship between the membership, elected and staff structures of the party apparatus.’
Recommending the party appoint a GC, Chakrabarti says the general secretary’s role is under-supported, ‘not least for the lack of a single in-house lawyer, notwithstanding his responsibilities for electoral law, data protection and aspects of the disciplinary process of which I am writing now’.
Chakrabarti, a barrister at 39 Essex Chambers in London, welcomed the fact that many Labour-leaning lawyers in private practice had offered their services on a range of complex issues either pro bono or for a fee over the years.
‘However, testimony to my 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 regional or national level,’ she said.
Chakrabarti said internal legal expertise was needed, not least to give urgent advice, achieve consistency and take responsibility for instructing a range of external lawyers where appropriate.
She also recommended a panel of volunteer lawyers be set up to assist the party’s national constitutional committee in its functions, and provide a review on procedural and proportionality grounds in cases of suspension or expulsion from the party.
Chakrabarti, who was called to the bar in 1994, worked as a lawyer in the Home Office from 1996 to 2001.