Lawyers back Labour ruling

TOP employment barrister David Pannick QC has applauded an industrial tribunal ruling against the Labour Party's women-only shortlists.

And Pannick, who originally condemned the party's policy after its introduction over two years ago, said although opposing opinions were “clearly arguable”, if an appeal were launched, “I would expect the Employment Appeal tribunal to reach the same conclusion”.

“This decision will confirm that any form of positive discrimination is contrary to the content and the relevant provisions of the Sex Discrimination Act,” he said.

In an address to employment lawyers in November 1993 Pannick claimed the policy was “legally incorrect” and said the women-only plan would impede the career paths of men who wanted to run as political candidates.

His views were last week supported by John Prophet, chair of the Leeds tribunal, who based his decision on the belief that Labour was a qualifying body which enabled people to pursue a vocation.

If the party had been viewed as a club or unincorporated body, entitled under sex discrimination legislation to restrict membership on the basis of sex, lawyers claim the decision may have differed.

Dibb Lupton Broomhead's Manchester-based regional managing partner Paul Nicholls said he was not surprised by the tribunal's decision.

“It is a useful reminder that positive discrimination is not lawful and that there are very strict limits to positive action,” he said.

Nicholls said parties also needed to consider the provisions of the Race Relations Act when selecting candidates.

A Conservative Party candidate who hoped to become the party's first black MP is currently claiming racism is “endemic” among the Tories, after fears arose he may be deselected because the party believed he had submitted an inaccurate curriculum vitae.

“This isn't just an issue for the Labour Party, it's an issue all parties need to look at,” said Nicholls. “They need to review their selection procedures to make sure selection committees are advised of their responsibilities under the equal opportunities legislation.”

Simmons & Simmons employment law partner Janet Gaymer said Labour would need to take a “practical approach” and consider time constraints when deciding whether it would appeal the decision.

“We can only now wait and see where this case goes,” she said. “But I don't think it's going to reach a final legal answer before the general election.”