Lord Rennard: injustice all round

by Carl Gardner on January 21, 2014

Liberal Democrats | Creative Commons

I was once, fairly briefly, a Liberal Democrat. I say that not to introduce a snarky remark about the LibDems, with whom I now rarely agree (except on Europe), but so you can decide whether my views on the Lord Rennard fiasco are motivated by bias against them. I think there’s been conspicuous unfairness – both to his accusers and to him.

According to what Lord Carlile has written in Rennard’s defence, he’s accused as follows:

Three women had alleged that Chris Rennard placed his hand on their knees or thighs, outside clothing, while sitting next to them.

The fourth alleged he put his hand down the back of her dress during a group photograph at a party meeting. It was said that by those four alleged acts, Chris ‘brought the party into disrepute’ and should be expelled.

At least some of these women have made the allegations in broadcast interviews. Channel 4 originally broadcast them almost a year ago. Bridget Harris (from 2 minutes 40 seconds into the piece) tells us Lord Rennard touched her knee or leg two or three times before inviting her up to his room (and that she reported the matter to her line managers at the time). An anonymous woman tells us (from 4 minutes 15 seconds) Lord Rennard “shoved his hand down the back” of her dress during a group photograph, and Alison Smith (from 5 minutes 30 seconds) tells us of an incident in which she says Lord Rennard placed himself between her and another woman, and “started moving his hands down our backs to places they had absolutely no business being”. She says she told two MPs, the then chief whip Paul Burstow and Jo Swinson. In addition, Susan Gaszczak has said

his (Lord Rennard’s) hand started to rub the outside of her leg. She claims that when she moved away he kept getting closer and was brushing parts of her that she ‘didn’t want to be brushed’.

When she excused herself to go to the toilet, she says he followed her and said: ‘Why don’t we get a couple more drinks sent up to my room, where we can continue this conversation?’

Caution in writing about this is necessary, since we don’t know what allegations have actually been formally made, and we don’t know what evidence has been given. It’s worth noting that the four allegations I’ve listed as being made in the media (two “hand on leg” and two “hand down back” accusations, to put it very crudely) don’t appear quite to marry up with Lord Carlile’s version of the case (three “hand on knee or thigh” and one “hand down back”). Everything might be clear if we knew the full detail of everything alleged.

To be as clear, and fair, as I can, Lord Carlile says

Chris has always denied that he touched the women at all.

Under the constitution of the Liberal Democrats in England, article 2.6 (page 68 of the pdf) and membership rules,

Membership may be revoked in accordance with the procedure laid out in the Membership Rules by the Liberal Democrats in England or a Regional Party or Local Party (or, where appropriate, a Specified Associated Organisation which acted as the enrolling body) on one or more of the following grounds: …

(b) conduct which has brought, or is likely to bring, the Party into disrepute

Paragraph 7 of the Membership Rules (page 96 of the pdf) sets out the disciplinary procedure. The procedure is initiated by the local, regional or English party after receipt of a “valid” complaint about a party member (presumably a complaint isn’t “valid” if, for instance, it does not identify the member complained about).

Under paragraph 7.6 (page 97 of the pdf), the party can appoint an investigator to

evaluate the strength of the evidence in support of the complaint

and whose report

shall either comprise a charge or list of charges against the individual concerned, together with a list of persons who can substantiate them and a copy of all of the written statements gathered during the course of the investigation, or it shall indicate that, in the view of the investigator, there is insufficient evidence to proceed.

If the investigator decides there is enough evidence to proceed, then the next stage is a “disciplinary meeting” of the local or regional party executive or committee, under rule 7.9 (page 97 of the pdf). Presumably the disciplinary panel deciding the case is a quorum of the relevant committee, and its members arrive at a verdict by secret ballot, presumably by a simple majority. What is clear is that they apply the criminal standard of proof: the member is only guilty of bringing the party into disrepute if proved to have done so beyond reasonable doubt.

That being the case, it follows that, although the rules do not say so explicitly, the investigator’s decision on whether there is sufficient evidence to proceed must refer in some way to the criminal standard. Whether the evidence is sufficient or not is a question of how likely a disciplinary meeting would be to “convict”, in other words. So it’s perfectly rational for the investigator appointed, Alistair Webster QC, to have adopted a “reasonable prospect of conviction” test. Is it likely that the meeting would find Lord Rennard guilty to the criminal standard?

Before looking at the investigator’s decision, it’s important to make a couple of points about the evidence. First, that we don’t know what it is. And secondly, that Lord Carlile claims the investigator saw evidence which undermined the complaints:

In relation to the fourth woman’s allegation, we have the picture, and the photographer provided a statement: neither supported the claim.

In relation to one of the other three women, we provided a devastating item of contradictory evidence that it would not be appropriate to publish.

In relation to another, we were in possession of totally contradictory potential witness evidence that we held back out of respect for requested privacy.

Of course it’s also fair to say that Lord Carlile does not explicitly argue that either the photograph or the photographer actually contradict the “hand down dress” allegation; just that they don’t give it support. We can make nothing of the “devastating item” of contradictory evidence without knowing what it is, and the other potentially contradictory evidence seems not to have been before Alistair Webster at all.

Alistair Webster’s report hasn’t been published, so all we have is this statement which explains the decision in his report. The key passages seem to me to be these:

the evidence suggests that Lord Rennard’s behaviour has caused distress to a number of women …

I have not made any findings of fact, but rather I offer my considered view on the likelihood that the allegations against Lord Rennard could be proved beyond reasonable doubt. …

My view, judging the evidence as a whole, is that there is a less than 50% chance that a charge against Lord Rennard could be proved to the requisite standard.

In my opinion, the evidence of behaviour which violated the personal space and autonomy of the complainants was broadly credible. However, it is my judgment, considering all of the evidence collected, that it is unlikely that it could be established beyond reasonable doubt that Lord Rennard had intended to act in an indecent or sexually inappropriate way. Without proof of such an intention, I do not consider that such a charge would be tenable. …

It is my view that Lord Rennard ought to reflect upon the effect that his behaviour has had and the distress which it caused and that an apology would be appropriate, as would a commitment to change his behaviour in future.

I’ve stressed several times already how hard it is to comment on this without having seen the written evidence – and without having seen Alistair Webster’s actual report, of course. Had Alistair Webster simply said he thought the evidence too weak to enable a disciplinary meeting to be sure of guilt, I’d simply have had to accept that. But Webster goes beyond that.

He says

the evidence of behaviour which violated the personal space and autonomy of the complainants was broadly credible.

But if the evidence was credible, that means members of a disciplinary panel could have believed it. Only a simple majority seems to be required, remember: not a unanimous verdict or even a heightened majority, as in a jury case. And remember, Lord Rennard apparently denies touching the women at all. So once you form the view that the evidence of touching is credible, in spite of his denial, how can you go on to conclude that the majority of a panel probably wouldn’t think the touching happened? I think credible evidence of touching gets this particular allegation quite a long way, if I have a reasonably accurate understanding of the evidence on either side.

Ah, you might object: the question isn’t whether a disciplinary meeting would believe the women’s stories, but whether it could be sure beyond reasonable doubt. Yes, that’s a fair point. But I’m not sure the standard of proof makes as much difference here as it first appears. Is there all that much difference between believing a man probably touched a woman (in spite of his denials) and feeling sure he touched her? An excessive focus on the epistemological difference between the two as decisive can amount to simply being spooked, in an abstract way, by the criminal standard of proof.

Alistair Webster also threw the complaint out because

it is unlikely that it could be established beyond reasonable doubt that Lord Rennard had intended to act in an indecent or sexually inappropriate way

but it’s not clear to me why he thought such an intention would have had to be proved. No such intention is even required for a conviction for sexual assault under section 3 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003. It seems to me the investigator’s decision is open to serious criticism on this ground alone.

Of course I bear in mind the important caveat that I haven’t seen the evidence myself. Still, Alistair Webster’s conclusion seems difficult to understand based on what he says about that evidence. I can’t help feeling that considering the evidence “broadly credible” would have been more consistent with allowing the complaint to proceed to the disciplinary panel than with concluding it was insufficient to go forward. And it seems to me he’s imported an excessively high requirement of intention into his analysis.

It took a long time for these women’s complaints to be taken seriously, and now there must be doubt about whether the evidence has been dealt with satisfactorily. They, certainly, have been dealt with unjustly.

And they’re not the only ones. Lord Rennard has I think seen all the evidence against him, but he hasn’t seen Alistair Webster’s report itself. The explanation we’ve been given is that lawyers have advised to do so would breach the Data Protection Act 1998. I imagine the advice must be that the report contains sensitive personal data under section 2 of the Act, because it relates to someone’s “sexual life” – although it seems a stretch to see allegations about touches on knees, legs and so on as being really about anyone’s sexual life. If that’s the view LibDem lawyers take, though, then they’re probably right that consent is necessary for disclosure under Schedule 3 of the Act, the only applicable paragraphs of which seem to require consent. We’re left to wonder who might be withholding consent, assuming it’s been asked for.

I’m not sure how Alistair Webster came to say

Lord Rennard ought to reflect upon the effect that his behaviour has had and the distress which it caused and that an apology would be appropriate

given that he also says he made no findings about Lord Rennard’s behaviour, and given that the investigator has no function except to evaluate the strength of the evidence. In my view, he or the Liberal Democrats should clarify whether he made that suggestion in his report and on his own initiative, or whether the suggestion of an apology was a political idea introduced by anyone else. The apology proposal introduced a dangerous “compromise” element into the case, which has been unhelpful to say the least.

But that would have been a minor issue, had it been left to Lord Rennard to make the apology or not, in his own time.

What is certainly unfair is to hang fresh disciplinary proceedings against Lord Rennard on his failure to give the suggested apology within a few days of Alistair Webster’s statement.

First, it’s an obvious attempt to have a second bite at the cherry. Lord Rennard has escaped censure on the complaints of disrepute by sexual harassment, and now the party is using the non-apology to reformulate the same complaint on collateral facts. Second, it effectively promotes what was only a suggestion, made in a statement going beyond the terms of the investigator’s task, into a form of compulsory sanction. That has to be wrong. It’s even more wrong unless Lord Rennard was expressly warned that there was a time limit within which he had to make his apology. If the party is using disciplinary action in order to enforce his apology, that would be an outrageous abuse of the disciplinary procedure.

Nor it is logical. The complaint must be that Lord Rennard’s failure to apologise brings the party into disrepute in the context of the allegations against him and what Alistair Webster has said. There’s a cloud hanging over the party, in other words, that, undispersed, brings disrepute.

The trouble is, Alistair Webster’s statement means there is no disreputable cloud in the first place. If a failure to apologise now means the party is in disrepute, that can only be because Lord Rennard’s conduct and failure to apologise together have that effect. But if you say x is disreputable unless y is added to or subtracted from it, then you must also be saying x – what’s left unapologised for – is disreputable in itself. Yet in respect of x, Lord Rennard has already been cleared.

The party can’t have it both ways. If the evidence against Lord Rennard suggested he’d brought the party into disrepute unless he apologised, then Alistair Webster was wrong, and the case should have gone forward to a disciplinary meeting. Putting it this way shows how the party has managed both to deal unfairly with the complaints, and now to deal unfairly with Lord Rennard.

It’s been suggested he could seek a judicial review – but I don’t think that can be right, procedurally speaking. The Liberal Democrats aren’t a body with public functions, and the question of Lord Rennard’s membership and conduct are private matters rather than questions of public law.

What he may be able to do is sue the party for breach of contract. The Liberal Democrats are I think an unincorporated association, which means the relationship between its members is governed by the law of contract, the terms of the contract being the party constitution and rules. Lord Rennard’s potential claim would be that the party has in effect breached its contract with him by failing to apply the rules properly (the investigator having wrongly exceeded his remit, and the party having unfairly taken fresh action on the basis of the investigator’s false step). He could conceivably seek an injunction to prevent the party from taking the fresh disciplinary case any further. None of this would be easy – but if I were advising the LibDems today, I don’t think I could tell Nick Clegg he’s safe.

Equally, the women who’ve accused Lord Rennard have the same contractual rights (assuming they’re all still members). They could sue too, if they think the party’s misapplied the disciplinary process.

Can this be solved without legal proceedings? My only suggestion is that Lord Rennard or his accusers (or both) should take their cases to the Appeals Panel for England under article 9.4 of the the constitution of the Liberal Democrats in England (page 88 of the pdf) on the basis that either the initial or the fresh disciplinary procedures (or both) were not properly carried out in accordance with the rules, so that a member’s rights under the constitution were breached. That’d have the advantage that the Appeals Panel’s powers appear unlimited – so it could even quash the original investigator’s report and order a reinvestigation from the beginning.

Politicians tend to favour political solutions to everything, which may explain why grandees like Lord Greaves suggest this can be settled by getting everyone to talk. But no political or presentational strategy can get the Liberal Democrats out of the hole they’ve dug.

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

1 tony williams January 21, 2014 at 19:06

very good
I would go further and say continues pestering not involving touching is harassment and that this evidently did happen therefore they should have gone to Disciplinary hearing.

I believe the problem is that noone would have wanted to be on the panel

2 paul balbi January 21, 2014 at 22:59

Thankyou for this – I was also particularly amazed by the decision (I admire your description of ‘hang’!) the new disciplinary proceedings on Rennard, and cannot imagine that was taken with correct legal advice, but rather on political grounds. I would imagine that the courts will not be impressed by the party (as you rightly put it) having another bite at the cherry.

Also thanks for attempting to show a way forward out of the mess, although comments from both sides tonight give me little cause for hope.

3 tony williams January 21, 2014 at 23:19

The thing I don’t understand is this:-
If the LD party turned round and said we are revoking your membership and as a gesture of good will are reimbursing you your dues for the last year (or even 6) and giving you back any tithe paid in that period he would have nowt to sue for surly and any legal action would not get anywhere, so why not???

4 Carl Gardner January 22, 2014 at 01:55

I don’t think it’s as simple as that, Tony. Contractual rights aren’t all just about money.

It seems to me he has a decent argument that his right, under the rules, is to be treated fairly, and that the fresh disciplinary action is unfair; that no damages can adequately compensate him for the unfair loss of his pretty-much lifelong membership of this party (and its predecessor); that this is not a commercial contract and so the courts should be readier to grant an injunction that they would be after a commercial falling-out; and that therefore, he’s entitled to an injunction to stop the disciplinary going ahead.

Not easy, but possible.

5 James Medhurst January 22, 2014 at 11:15

This is difficult. The Lib Dems made the sensible decision to pass this over to an independent QC and it was the QC who made a mess of it. This leaves the leadership in a bind. If a QC says that it is likely that inappropriate touching would be established to a criminal stanadard and only the requisite intent might not be established, is it really possible for them to leave it there, in this day and age?

Perhaps the party should appeal.

6 tony williams January 22, 2014 at 11:39

Carl
Thankyou for throwing some light on that

7 Andrew Walsh January 22, 2014 at 12:39

This is an excellent analysis and cuts through some of the more hysterical reporting.

Re the intention point – isn’t the judgement essentially saying that there isn’t a prospect of showing (beyond a reasonable doubt)that he brought the party into disrepute because even if it’s concluded that he touched the ladies, he did not do it with malicious sexual intent. I.e. touching someone or propositioning them in the manner alleged isn’t necessarily/automatically a disreputable act, not if it is done in a well intentioned manner with the belief that it is a welcome advance. So whilst intention might not be relevant for sexual assault – that wasn’t the charge here and thus his intentions are a reasonable consideration when assessing his conduct.

Given the advances weren’t considered appropriate by the women, it makes sense to suggest that he may wish to reflect on his behaviour – even though he did not bring the party into disrepute, he did cause distress. But I do agree that forcing an apology – especially when he seemingly presumably maintains some of the allegations are just plain false – is unfair.

8 Carl Gardner January 22, 2014 at 13:04

Andrew,

It’s a very odd approach to disciplinary proceedings if it’s not enough, in order to be guilty of bringing the party into disrepute, to commit a sexual assault (which I’m not accusing Lord Rennard of; this just seems to me the logical consequence of what’s been decided) of even if you have to commit a sexual assault in order to be disciplined. If that really were the correct approach to the LibDems’ rules, then there’d really be very little hope of their ever disciplining anyone for sexual harassment.

The fact that they’ve got into this position makes me wonder whether Lord Rennard’s lawyers have successfully managed to make the LibDems frame this in quasi-criminal law terms, as though something akin to a criminal offence needed to be proved.

What “advances”, Andrew? What “behaviour”? Lord Rennard denies touching any of these women, and Alistair Webster has concluded that there’s insufficient evidence to support their complaints. It’s wrong for Liberal Democrats to proceed on the assumption that it’s somehow been proved or established that he touched anyone. It hasn’t.

9 Anonymous January 22, 2014 at 13:32

Since you’re on the subject of LibDem sexual misbehaviour, you might be interested in Nigel Pascoe QC’s report into Mike Hancock MP: http://order-order.com/2014/01/22/the-mike-hancock-report-that-the-libdems-hid/

Now that must be bringing the party into disrepute! Much more serious than Rennard.

10 James Murray January 22, 2014 at 18:57

Chris Rennard made his statement and I assume that it does not contain any false facts – surely no one, named ‘Rennard the Fox’ by his political enemies in other parties, could ever be that foolish.

But his statement does raise several questions, for others to answer:

1. There were two said to be two women subject to media pressure to persuade them to make allegations.
At the time Rennard offered to meet with them in the presence of the Party President, Baroness Scott, .
Both women stated then that they did not want to make any complaint or have any action taken.
Why did that change? Strange behaviour indeed…

2. On this offer to meet with her, one woman refused.
As far as I am aware, the complainant women are not shrinking violets, and given their subsequent steely assertiveness, quite possibly were just as assertive at the time.
Why did this woman not meet at the time?

3. In January 2011, the other of the two women did meet as offered.
Rennard, in front of Baroness Scott, made an expression of regret for any unintended harm or embarrassment caused to her, and this was accepted.
What has changed since this acceptance?

4. Channel 4 were investigating allegations against Rennard and they broadcast about these on February 21st 2013.
This was a week before the most important by-election of that Parliament.
Did the women concerned choose to make their complaints at that delicate period or many months before the by-election was called?

5. Certainly, one of the women then chose to go to the police on the eve of the poll of that by-election.
Why did she decide on that particular timing?

6. Did someone in the party approach the Metropolitan Police, or did the police approach the party for assistance?

7. The Police decided to take no further action following their investigation.
Party headquarters did not contact Rennard about this before issuing a press statement about their resuming with their own investigation.
Why did they not at least contact Chris at that stage?

8. The party sent a series of e-mails to all members saying Rennard was accused of ‘serious allegations of sexual assault’?
”Serious sexual assault” is defined by the police as “intentionally penetrating the vagina or anus of another person with a part of the body or anything else, without their consent.”
The email was termed allegation a ‘serious’ and so, in effect, ramped up an allegation of simple sexual assault from “intentionally touching, where the touching is sexual and the person does not consent.” To an allegation of an offence not far short of rape.
Who drafted that daft email?

9. In any event, on any reading of the alleged acts, at their worst, they were not ‘serious’.
‘Inappropriate’, ‘gauche’ even ‘immature’ but never ‘serious’ .
Rennard offered mediation in October 2013 via the Independent Investigator. Why on earth was this was rejected by the ‘complainants’.

10. The party apparently decided not to “accept” the report, which is against the rules for an independent investigation.
Who decided this?

11. Why did the party decide to allow a further complaint to be admitted after the deadline had passed?

12. Why did this fourth complainant decide, late in the day, to further her complaint?

13. The party say they cannot supply a copy of the report under the Data Protection Act. Where in the Act does it say so?

14. Alistair Webster says the words accompanying his ‘No Further Action’ statement were not his responsibility.

Who added them and why?

Ask, and have answered, the above questions and you will be well on the way to understanding this ‘in camera’ enquiry.

11 Ben January 22, 2014 at 23:35

I am not sure why you don’t think intention is relevant when it is right there in the resource you linked to:

The elements of the offence of sexual assault are:
A person (A) intentionally touches another person (B)
the touching is sexual
(B) does not consent to the touching, and
(A) does not reasonably believe that (B) consents.

It is clear that you must intend to touch someone, and the touch you intend must be a touch which is sexual. A touch can be sexual by its nature (e.g. on the breast) or by intent (e.g. stroking the arm could be merely friendly or could be sexual depending on intent), but either way the touch must be intended, and it must be either a naturally sexual or intendedly sexual touch.

E.g. if A intends to touch a B on the arm, but B turns and A accidentally touches B on her breast, that is a sexual touch but not an intended touch, so no offence. However if A intends to touch B on the breast, and somehow manages to believe that it is not a sexual touch, that is not a defence because it is by nature a sexual touch, so the only defence is consent or a reasonable belief in consent (for example if A was a doctor attempting to conduct a breast exam, B may have entered for the appointment with the intention of explaining that she didn’t want to have one and been distressed when the doctor A began it. No offence because reasonable belief in consent exists.).

Either way intent is surely a necessary element of the offence.

12 Carl Gardner January 23, 2014 at 00:03

Ben,

I think you’ve explained well how the mental elements of the offence of sexual assault work.

But as you’ve explained, whats not required is an intention

to act in an indecent or sexually inappropriate way

which goes some way beyond the kinds of mental element you’ve set out.

And of course Lord Rennard was never accused (in the party disciplinary process) of the offence of sexual assault. That’s why I think it’s odd that the investigator looked for an even more demanding mental element than the law of sexual assault requires.

13 hazel paul January 23, 2014 at 13:21

Speaking as a lay person, as a woman with a long business career in a predominantly male sector, I have seen a number of instances of older men groping younger women over the years. This groping is not usually sexual assault in any physical sense, beyond just pressing up too close, placing hands on knees, arms at back just a little too long for comfort, as Lord Rennard has been described doing. So for me these accusations have the ring of truth although I have of course no proof of this.

In practice it is always younger junior women who are subjected to this type of groping by older more senior men and when they complain, it is hard to prove as the men are in total denial argue their friendly gestures have been misinterpreted and of course only the woman affected really knows the intent (it is not just one accidental brush against the arm or leg but several which consolidates the woman’s view it is deliberate.)

Nor is it always the case that the men concerned are taking advantage of the women’s desire to succeed in their organisation. Men grope women in a number of scenarios when they are in contact without any workplace preferment involved. I came across one such case very recently. Indeed it has often seemed to me to almost compulsive behaviour, a sexual disorder even.

Faced with complaints about other men groping, male bosses prefer to tune it out and sweep it under the carpet, particularly when the men accused deny it totally and are useful employees with no outward sign of being “creepy “.

Meanwhile there is a school of thought that says some men were ever thus and should just be smacked and told off, difficult to do of course when he is your senior in an organisation. Yet should women tolerate this?

Equally interesting to me, on reading the various online comments, is how ready some men are to blame the women and much anger there still is out there among men about the advances brought about by feminism. I assume these comments are made by older men……

14 Andy J January 23, 2014 at 20:32

Clear though your analysis is, Carl, I can’t help feeling two separate issues – alleged sexual assault and bringing the party into disrepute – have somehow become conflated at times. Clearly the former would be a criminal matter and therefore would require the higher burden of proof. But the latter is surely a civil matter and therefore subject to the balance of probabilities test. As far as we know, Alistair Webster QC’s investigation was not concerned with the disrepute aspect. On that basis surely the second bite of the cherry is justified because the Disciplinary Panel need to decide (as the party constitution allows them so to do) on whether disrepute has been brought upon the party by the overall case, rather than simply on the narrower measure of whether something criminal occurred. Whether or not disrepute has been brought about is a very subjective thing to measure. Brought into disrepute in the eyes of whom? The entire electorate, Lib Dem voters, Lib Dem party members, or just those members directly involved, namely the complainants and the upper echelons of the party? And how should the level be measured: the number of adverse column inches given over to the story, the number of votes lost at next May’s European elections, or just the gut feeling of the Disciplinary Panel?
Of course it is perfectly possible for activity with no criminal connotations to bring a party into disrepute (cf some recent behaviour by UKIP members), and in other circumstances, for criminal behaviour to have no automatic taint to the party’s reputation (cf Chris Huhne) such that party membership needs to be revoked.
Surely if anything has brought the Lib Dems into disrepute, it is the way in which the case has been handled internally, along with the continuing feud, both which are more likely to remain in the minds of potential Lib Dem voters in five months time, rather than the fate of an unelected party strategist.
(Disclaimer: I am not now nor have I ever been a member of the Lib Dems or any other political party)

15 maire e January 25, 2014 at 14:37

Fascinating for a non-lawyer to read, and yet again (notwithstanding all the erudite and intellectual rigor involved) to marvel at how lawyers see trees but never woods nor forests. Woods and forests comprise tangible trees and intangible space between trees. We can trust the trees because we can touch them. But the spaces between ….. whoooaa, way too dark, scary, unreliable and untouchable ! (apologies for hyperbole, but underneath is I believe the reason why non-lawyers see lawyers inhabiting a parallel universe).

Everyone can have a great time postulating motives of all concerned, but underneath the publically stated positions of the Lord and the women is the fact that either the women are lying, or the man is lying. The working presumption (which of course is NOT
proven at all, for the avoidance of doubt!) for those of us who see work place social and sexual issues would be that the man is in denial that his behaviour could be inappropriate, and therein of course lies the likely whole point of this. It would have been best dealt with outside a formal legal context, but – whether through evil intent or just plain cock-up – that has just not happened.
And once you step into a formal legal context, you enter the parallel universe !

16 PETER RODGERS January 25, 2014 at 18:48

Maire, your simplistic view of this being a matter of which of the 2 sides was lying ignores the question of interpretation.
Rennard denies the accusations because he doesn’t believe he did anything wrong.
On the other hand, the women believe his actions were inappropriate, therefore wrong.
Neither can be said to be lying so it is down to others to determine the outcome of the dispute and this must be based on the currently accepted standards of behaviour. I was under the impression that society had moved on from the days when men could regard women as inferiors and take the opportunity of a sly fondle whenever they felt like it.
It seems to me that Lord Rennard has yet to accept the current moral standards of office behaviour (though he certainly isn’t alone in this). For that reason he ought to apologise and change his behaviour.
For their part, the women should accept that they also need to change. As my wife says, if a colleague put his hand on her leg, she would judge whether this was a casual incident with no sexual intent. If so, no harm done, but if she thought there was such intent, she would firmly insist that the hand be removed.
Or, to put it bluntly, “knee him in the balls” and stop it happening again. Women fought to have the same status as men, it is incumbent on them to stand up for themselves.
If all sides in this sad, unappealing and rather trivial matter had taken their personal responsibilities seriously, it would never have reached this legal shambles. I include the party officials in this, too, because they mishandled it right at the start, fearful, no doubt, of upsetting their election guru.

17 maire e January 25, 2014 at 19:47

Peter
It states plainly in the article (and in other sources) that Lord Carlile says

Chris has always denied that he touched the women at all

I don’t understand which words in that statement are ambiguous or unclear.
The women state that he did touch them.
Ergo someone is telling porkies (perhaps Lord Carlile – I have no way of knowing for a fact).
Either one of the Lords is lying (or the words attributed to LC are badly mistaken – given where the situation had got to by then, was LC truly misquoted!?) or the women are ; that is a simple fact, not simplistic at all.
It is not a good idea to smooth around that fundamental by fudging it – it is the continual fudging that has led to this current state of affairs which cannot satisfy anyone.

The likeliest explanation of the current situation is that Rennard is in complete denial about what happened (as to the actual physical contacts, let alone intentions).
We agree about what is or is not acceptable, but the outcome we both believe to be the way forward cannot happen whilst Rennard is in denial.
And should women stand up for themselves? Of course they should. But do not forget what can and does sometimes happen when do in these situations.

18 Michael Hall January 26, 2014 at 14:54

Carl
I agree with most of your analysis but there are two points that I think may need clarification:
1. The Data Protection Act. the conditions set out in the Third Schedule are alternatives – so it is not necessary to prove consent to disclosure of sensitive personal information to the data controller, if one of the alternative conditions applies – i.e. processing is necessary for various purposes. Conditions 4 and 6 are relevant. Now disclosure to *third parties* still requires consent but not disclosure to the disciplinary panel which needs the full report and copies of statements. If the women have included information about their sex lives in their statements they cannot have expected that information not to have been disclosed to the investigator it was addressed to and to the panel. So why the report has not been disclosed other than to the Chair of the Regional Parties Committee, I do not understand. I also do not believe it as important people in the Party have firm views and I suspect disclosure has been made to them.
2. Judicial Review – judicial review is not only available in respect of the actions of Governmental bodies – that is the test for complaints of breaches of human rights. Bodies which are established by statute or which receive public funds are amenable to judicial review. Political parties in Britain are established under the Political Parties Elections and Referendums Act 2000 and opposition parties (the Libdems were an opposition party) received Short and Cranbourne money from HMG at the relevant time.
Also it is possible for a private law action for breach of contract to be taken if a club or society infringes its own internal rules. From the Parliament of Australia website please see:
http://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/rp/RP9596/96rp21
Although this is about the position in Australia as English Law applies in Australia and many of the cases referred to are English, the article is a useful discussion of the possibility of JR or a private action against a political party in Britain.

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