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Brighton and Hove Liberal Democrats

Sal Brinton writes…How the party is addressing members’ concerns over harassment complaints

November 13, 2017 9:20 AM
By Sal Brinton in Liberal Democrat Voice
Originally published by South Lincolnshire Liberal Democrats

Sal BrintonThe Federal Board of the Liberal Democrats has met to discuss the concerns expressed by members of the party over the last few days. We considered what action should be taken to address these concerns, and also to let members know about changes that are in progress already.

I want to start by thanking everybody who has spoken up about harassment and sexual assault over the last few days. I know, from personal experience in the media when I was younger, that it is insidious, pervasive and demeaning and the effects never really leave you. Vince Cable and I remain very clear that there is no place for harassment and sexual assault inside the Liberal Democrats and we must have a zero tolerance approach to it.

That is why the serious allegations made by some members relating to rape and assaults in a case that is currently under investigation are very serious. Because the case is under way at the moment, the party cannot comment. However, we can look at some of the concerns raised by the complainants about where the process may have failed. That is urgent, and the Board recognises this.

Early in 2017 the Federal Board asked Lord Ken Macdonald, former Director of Public Prosecutions, to carry out a review of our current disciplinary processes for two reasons. Firstly, following the Morrissey Review the party constantly reviews its processes, but the Board was also concerned to hear that some cases appeared to take too long, and that some processes were inconsistent. Ken was asked to think radically about a new process that would be seen as independent, fair, faster and accountable. The snap General Election halted the evidence he was taking, but the report is now nearing conclusion and will be presented to the Board in December, published to the party in January and then changes presented formally to Spring Conference.

We believe that many of the issues raised over the last few days are being considered, but there are some specific problems raised by the complainants in their case that we believe should be addressed, and the Board has agreed to ask Isabelle Parasram, a party member and barrister, to investigate these and report back swiftly to Ken Macdonald so he can consider and incorporate any recommendations that Isabelle Parasram may wish to make. These areas include support in the process for the complainants; anonymity for complainants; reporting serious crimes to the police; suspension of members following serious allegations and also, in light of Carl Sergeant's death, how the party can support members appropriately who are accused of serious allegations.

Isabelle Parasram will have a member of support staff at HQ to help her with coordinating interviews and discussions, and the email address for the investigation is investigation@libdems.org.uk

Jeanne Tarrant, our Pastoral Care Officer, remains available for complainants who need support. I want to make clear that, despite some comments online, she is not part of the disciplinary process: that is carried out by members. Jeanne can ask for special arrangements for a disciplinary hearing to ensure that complainants worried about their safety do not have to give evidence in front of the defendant. She has also accompanied them to hearings to provide that support, as well as keeping them up to date on where the process is. If you need to get in touch with her because you are a victim of harassment or assault or bullying, please do so: jeanne.tarrant@libdems.org.uk