Every now and again, someone raises a legal case which occurred in the run up to the General Election in 1997.
As Chair of the Labour Group on Islington Council I felt it was my duty to report to the National Executive of the Labour Party the circumstances in which we had suspended one of our members (Liz Davies) in order to inform their decision on whether to endorse her as a parliamentary candidate. My submission was supported by two other witnesses, Phil Kelly (Chair of the Education Committee and a former editor of Tribune) and James Purnell (Vice-Chair of the Education Committee at the time, who later became a Member of Parliament and a Cabinet Minister).
Liz Davies’s response was to distort our submissions (which were made in confidence to the National Executive) and to use her friends at the Guardian and Tribune to claim that we had accused her of inciting violence (which we had not) rather than shouting abuse (which she admitted). As a barrister with a wealthy partner she was seeking to force us to withdraw our evidence. Although we counter-claimed on grounds of justification and that she had distorted our comments, our objective was always to secure a reasonable settlement of legal proceedings which, if they progressed to the high court could only be damaging to the Labour Party since Liz Davies continued to be a Labour Party councillor.
We issued the following statement in our own names at the time, following careful legal advice:
We welcome today’s statement in open court, withdrawing the legal proceedings taken against us by Liz Davies. Liz Davies had accused us of lying about her. She has now accepted that our statements were made in good faith, and on that basis we are also withdrawing our counterclaim against her.
There has never been a question of us paying her damages. She asked for a contribution towards her costs. We declined, but offered to make a payment of £300 each to Jeremy Corbyn’s election campaign – an offer which she accepted.
We never said that Liz Davies incited violence. When Tribune first reported prior to the NEC meeting that our statements said this, we wrote immediately to say that it was untrue. We also made this clear at the Islington North Labour Party’s General Committee meeting in October 1995.
When Liz Davies subsequently issued a writ for libel against us, we had little choice but to defend it. We had already made absolutely clear that we did not believe that she had incited violence, so there was nothing for us to withdraw. Indeed, in reaching today’s settlement we have not withdrawn anything.
The Labour Party has a duty to protect its reputation. Further, members should not be prohibited from performing their duty and giving evidence to the Party’s internal tribunals by the threat of litigation. Defending this action had been expensive. Had it not been for the support of Rowena Herdman-Smith and Anthony Julius of Mishcon de Reya and their partners’ understanding approach to legal fees we would not have been able to afford to defend ourselves or to dispose of this litigation in such a satisfactory manner.
We would like to take this opportunity to thank them and the many colleagues who have given their support.