.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Saturday, November 17, 2018

The House of Lords and allegations of sexual harrassment

Those of us who are members still recall how Liberal Democrats peers rallied behind the party's election guru and former Chief Executive, Chris Rennard over a number of allegations made against him. He was cleared of sexually harassing Liberal Democrat party workers despite an independent review finding “broadly credible” evidence he “violated” the personal space of women.

A lot of the arguments deployed in Rennard's defence revolved around burden of proof, but the overall impression the case left with many of us was that, despite the findings of the independent review, the party's inadequate processes had failed the alleged victims.

A new disciplinary and complaints procedure has now been put into place in the Liberal Democrats to create a proper process which treats all parties fairly, but also moves the burden of proof away from a criminal standard to one more appropriate in determining whether somebody should remain a member of the party or not.

Watching the House of Lords debate the very serious allegations against Lord Lester, I was struck by the similarities, but also with how out of touch many of those speaking in Lester's defence were. I very much agree with a lot of what Jenny Jones of the Greens and Lib Dem Peer Meral Hussein-Ece have to say in this article in yesterday's Guardian, much of which is worth quoting:

'Jones said she was dismayed by a debate in which a series of peers said they were long-time friends of Lester and cast doubt on the veracity of Sanghera’s claims, which were supported by testimony from six people.

“I actually walked out the debate at one point because I was so horrified at the things that were being said – so misogynistic [and] victim-blaming,” she said. “I couldn’t believe that this was happening in 2018. It was so archaic and, honestly, cruel.”

Hussein-Ece said the debate seemed an attempt by Lester’s friends to force a vote on a Thursday afternoon, when many peers had left London.

“It was pretty awful. I just couldn’t believe how it was unfolding,” she said. “The debate was all about how unfair it was to Lord Lester, and how he was a great friend of all of them. It was the establishment, the old boys’ network, coming together to look after their own.”

Pannick told the Lords that there were inconsistencies between Sanghera’s “allegations and her own conduct”, saying that a week after the harassment, she had written to Lester “in affectionate terms” in a book she gave him.

Other peers spoke to say they had known Lester, 82, for many years and could not believe he would act in such a way. The average age of speakers in the debate was 75.

A Lib Dem peer, Tom McNally, also noted the warm comments Sanghera had written in the book, saying: “It seems strange, but never mind.​” He also expressed doubt over whether a “confident and determined campaigner” like her would be intimidated by a peer.

Another Lib Dem, Dick Taverne, said Sanghera’s behaviour was such that if her evidence to the inquiry had been cross-examined – the key demand of Lester and Pannick – then it was likely “sufficient doubts would have been raised for the charge to be dismissed”.

This prompted shouts of, “Shame on you!” from Jones and Hussein-Ece.

Jones said it the Lords seemed “totally out of touch with the feeling of the #MeToo movement, and the general feeling of the country”.

She added: “I walked out in fury at some of the things that were being said by eminent people that I’d always had a high regard for. Pannick has always been a hero of mine. He could not be more diminished in my eyes for taking up this cause.”

Pannick has argued that Lester’s inability under the Lords disciplinary rules to cross-examine Sanghera meant her evidence could not be fully tested. Other peers argued that Lester had approved the rules and only objected to them when the inquiry found against him.'

Personally, I am appalled by the whole tone of this debate and by many of the things that were said in defence of Lester.  They underline once more how out-of-touch and unfit for purpose the House of Lords is. The sooner it is replaced with an accountable elected second chamber the better.
Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?