HUNDREDS of thousands of Labour voters will discover tomorrow if they are allowed to choose between Jeremy Corbyn and Owen Smith in the party’s leadership contest.
The Court of Appeal is considering whether to reinstate a block imposed by Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) on nearly 130,000 recruits getting the vote.
This was overturned by a High Court judge Mr Justice Hickinbottom on Monday.
He allowed a legal challenge by five new members and declared that refusing them the right to vote would amount to a breach of contract.
But Labour’s ruling body, the national executive committee (NEC), said the High Court judge got it wrong and took the case to the Court of Appeal today.
Monday’s decision was an apparent boost to Jeremy Corbyn in his battle to remain Labour leader against rival Owen Smith
The NEC decided on “freeze date” July 12 that full members would not be able to vote if they had not enjoyed continuous party membership for six months, since January 12.
Labour’s general secretary Iain McNicol’s lawyers said he is appealing against that ruling “as a representative of all members of the Labour Party except the (five) claimants”.
Clive Sheldon QC, appearing for Mr McNicol, told three appeal judges on Thursday that the question for the court was whether Mr Justice Hickinbottom “erred” when he decided that the NEC did not have the power to restrict the right of members to vote under the contract between members of the Labour Party, as set out in the rule book .
The QC submitted: “The learned judge below got it wrong. The NEC is afforded by the rule book sufficiently broad powers that it can actually override the rules framework in a particular case, if it so wishes.
“They are the guardian of the constitution.
“What we have done is consistent with the rules framework.”
Referring to the criteria for voting, Mr Sheldon said the NEC “defines the precise eligibility criteria, meaning it fixes the eligibility criteria, it sets the boundaries, it sets the limits for the eligibility criteria”.
Lawyers for the five are opposing the appeal and asking the judges – Lord Justice Beatson, sitting with Lady Justice Macur and Lord Justice Sales – to uphold the High Court ruling.
They are arguing that the NEC had no power within the party rules to retrospectively “freeze” a full member’s ability to vote in any leadership election.
The five are Christine Evangelou, Rev Edward Leir, Hannah Fordham, Chris Granger and “FM”, a teenage member.
There has been speculation that Mr McNicol could face being ousted if the party loses its appeal as divisions within the party deepen still further.
A senior Labour source said: “If Labour loses the appeal, the position of Iain McNicol becomes untenable.
“Having spent nearly a quarter (of a) million pounds on this legal case and staking his professional reputation on the outcome, if he loses today then he simply can’t stay in post.”
John McDonnell has urged the NEC to drop their appeal
Lord Falconer, who quit as shadow justice secretary in the mass walkout of the shadow cabinet, said the party was right to appeal against the High Court ruling.
“It’s for the NEC to decide what the rules are of any contest,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“If the result of this High Court litigation is that it’s the courts who decide the detail of how an election is going to be fought, then there are going to be even more High Court hearings because everybody who doesn’t like a ruling of the NEC is going to go to the High Court.”
The peer said Labour has “got to unify” once the leadership result is returned.
Asked if he would rejoin the shadow cabinet, he replied: “Let’s see what happens.”
“I will back whoever wins,” he added.
At the end of legal submissions, Lord Justice Beatson announced that the court will give its decision in the case tomorrow.
He said his aim was to give judgment at 3pm.
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