Labour members who joined the party after January 12 will not be able to vote in this summer’s leadership contest, a court has confirmed this afternoon.
The Court of Appeal today overturned an earlier decision to allow some 130,000 new party members to have a say in the contest between Jeremy Corbyn and Owen Smith.
That means the NEC’s original decision - to exclude those members who joined after January 12 - has been upheld.
It also means the party will not have to pay back the the millions it raised through charging people disqualified from voting £25 to re-register as supporters.
The court said there was “express provision” in the rules that “the precise eligibility criteria shall be defined by the National Executive Committee”.
It added: “The National Executive Committee has the power to set the criteria for members to be eligible to vote in the leadership election in the way it did.”
Labour Deputy Leader Tom Watson, who along with the party General Secretary Iain McNicol, brought the appeal to court, posted a cryptic tweet after the ruling:
The five Labour members who took legal action against the original decision applied for the case to be moved to the Supreme Court, but this was refused by the Court of Appeal.
The members who challenged the decision now face legal costs of £60,000, to be paid within 28 days.
Edward Leir, one of the members who took the Labour Party to court, told Huff Post UK: “We’re looking at whether to take the matter further to the Supreme Court. Fundamentally this is an issue of democracy but at the same time we have to be realistic.”
“We’ve been supported by over 2,000 people through the Crowdfunder. It’s easy to forget that, in all the political turmoil, we’re just five ordinary members of the Labour Party who wanted to stand up for tens of thousands of others.”
Leir confirmed he and the four other members would be able to pay the £60,000 legal fees. He said: “The costs will be paid, if that’s what we end up having to do. We’ve secured enough backing to take it this far - win or lose; we didn’t take the decision lightly.
“It’s an expensive process, fighting for justice, and thousands and thousands of people would say what we’ve done has been perfectly reasonable. I’m certainly glad that we’ve done what we’ve needed to do.”
Paddy Lillis, Chair of the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee said: “The Labour Party welcomes the decision of the Appeal Court. The Party has said consistently throughout this process that we would defend vigorously the decisions of the NEC.
“It was right that the Party appealed the judgement on the freeze date, just as we would have appealed if the Court in the previous case did not uphold the NEC decision that the incumbent Leader of the Labour Party did not require nominations.
“It is crucial to the Labour Party that our governing body has the authority to debate, decide and implement the procedures, timetable and voting eligibility for our internal elections and selections.
“The original Court decision had wide-ranging implications for the party and the authority of our governing body. It was the correct decision to seek clarification on this fundamental principle in the Court of Appeal.”
The decision to introduce a retrospective cut-off line on members who could vote in the leadership election was believed to help Jeremy Corbyn as it ruled out all those who joined following the mass shadow resignations in June.
It is believed that surge was mainly Corbyn-sympathisers who were angry with the Parliamentary Labour Party for undertaking a perceived coup against the leadership.
A spokesperson for Jeremy for Labour said:”We think that this is the wrong decision - both legally and democratically.
“The Court’s ruling disenfranchises nearly 130,000 Labour members, who joined the party since January and were explicitly told that they would have a vote in any leadership election.
“Crucial to the outcome today was the introduction of a new argument by the Labour Party HQ’s lawyers, who invoked an obscure clause in the Labour Party rules (Chapter 4, Clause II, 1.A), which could be read as giving the NEC the right to ignore all of the rules laid out for leadership elections. In other words, this is a ‘make it up as you go along’ rule. We do not think that making it up as you go along is a reasonable way to conduct democracy in our party.
“Serious questions must be raised, however, over why and how the NEC Procedures Committee brought this appeal. In doing so, it effectively risked new members’ money on an attempt to disenfranchise them. If we are to build a big, inclusive party to take on the Tories, we need to secure democracy in our party.”
The ruling also specifically explains the concept of a “freeze date” for party membership is to tackle fears of “entryism”.
On three occasions, the court judgement refers to freeze dates being specifically mentioned in the Labour rule book to stop entryism from occurring.
Corbyn’s leadership rival Owen Smith released a statement saying he “had welcomed the prospect of 125,000 additional members being given the opportunity to vote in this vitally important leadership election.”
He added: “The decision of the Appeal Court today doesn’t change my approach to this contest; I am getting on with the job of talking to as many members and supporters across the country as possible and making the case for a united, radical and credible Labour Party.”