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Set Clear Rules – A Lesson From the Labour Party

10th October, 2016

The recent case of Christine Evangelou and others v Ian McNicol [2016] EWCA Civ 817 has served as a reminder of the importance for all entities to have clear and unequivocal rules and this extends to unincorporated associations such as the Labour Party.

The case concerns the Labour Party’s constitution as set out in its 2016 Rule Book, in particular, the rules relating to how an election should be conducted.

A leadership election had been triggered. The following day (12 July 2016) the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the Labour Party met to agree the procedure and timetable for the election. It concluded that those who would be allowed to vote in the election were:

  • Members of the Party who had been members since 12 January 2016;
  • Affiliated supporters; and
  • Registered supporters of the Party of over 18 years of age, who were on the electoral role, whose applications for registration were received between 18 and 20 July 2016, and who had paid a fee of £25.

Five members of the Labour Party brought proceedings challenging the NEC’s authority to set the conditions of eligibility to vote in the election.  The defendant is the General Secretary of the Labour Party.

The 2016 Rule Book is essentially a contract to which each member adheres when he joins the party. A provision in the Rule Book which states:

“The precise eligibility criteria [-that is to say, to vote in the election-] shall be defined by the National Executive Committee”.

Therefore, on appeal the court held that the NEC did indeed have express authority to set the conditions of eligibility to vote in the election.

This serves as a reminder that all entities, including clubs, associations and political parties should have rules which form part of their constitution which are clear. Those rules act as a contract and as evidenced above, they will prevail if there is ever a dispute between members. Therefore, we recommend that those rules are reviewed at least every 5 years and ensure that they are clear and unequivocal. Doing so may mean that you avoid a Labour Party situation with members disputing actions of other members and seeking to exclude some members from any leadership election.

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