A peer in the House of Lords will not be suspended from Parliament despite allegations he offered a woman a peerage in exchange for sex.
Veteran human rights lawyer Lord Lester of Herne Hill faced a record four-year-long suspension following claims he repeatedly sexually harassed anti-forced marriage campaigner Jasvinder Sanghera in 2007 - allegations he strongly denies.
The 82-year-old’s ban was called for by the Lords’ privileges and conduct committee at the start of the week after it found he had breached the House’s code of conduct.
But peers today rebelled against the watchdog, voting 101 to 78 to send Lester’s case back to the committee and effectively block his suspension.
It came after the barrister’s long-time friend Lord Pannick told the House that Lester’s reputation had been “destroyed” by the allegations, urging other peers to think how they would feel if faced with the same claims.
If the committee’s report had been produced by a golf club or trade union, “I would have no difficulty whatever in overturning that report in the courts of this country”, the QC said.
“The noble Lord, Lord Lester, cannot go to court because of parliamentary privilege,” Pannick continued. “It is therefore our obligation to apply at least equivalent standards in addressing these matters.”
The decision has sparked anger among female rights campaigners, including Labour MP Jess Phillips.
Reacting to the news, she tweeted: “In a day when politics seemingly can get no worse, I am literally heartbroken from the message this sends.
“The powerful can do whatever they like, gaming lives and liberties for their own ends. I could cry.”
Meanwhile, fellow Labour MP Sarah Champion called the ruling a “despicable perversion of justice”.
“I can’t express how angry & disgusted I am with this living, breathing example of the old boys network.”