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New Labour members hail court victory over leadership vote

Published 08/08/2016

Fitness instructor Christine Evangelou, 41, is one of five Labour Party newcomers who are fighting to win back their leadership election vote in a High Court battle
Fitness instructor Christine Evangelou, 41, is one of five Labour Party newcomers who are fighting to win back their leadership election vote in a High Court battle

Five new members of the Labour Party have won a High Court battle for the right to vote in the forthcoming leadership election.

The test case could also open the way for tens of thousands of other new members to vote, and is believed to be good news for Jeremy Corbyn.

Christine Evangelou, 41, a fitness instructor from Enfield, north London, who was one of the five, said she believed most of the new members wanted to help Mr Corbyn "take the party back to its roots".

Lawyers for the five accused the party's National Executive Committee (NEC) of unlawfully "freezing" them and many others out of the high-profile contest between Mr Corbyn and Owen Smith even though they had "paid their dues".

The NEC decided that full members would not be able to vote if they had not had at least six months' continuous membership from January 12 up to July 12 - the "freeze date".

To gain the right to vote, members were given a window of opportunity, between July 18 and 20, to become "registered supporters" on payment of an additional fee of £25. Non-members were given the same opportunity.

But Mr Justice Hickinbottom, sitting in London on Monday, ruled that refusing the five the vote would amount to a "breach of contract".

The Labour Party was given permission to appeal to the Court of Appeal and a hearing could take place later this week.

A Labour spokesman said: "It is right that the Labour Party seeks to defend vigorously decisions of the National Executive Committee in this matter, and we will now study this judgment carefully."

Kate Harrison, solicitor for the claimants, said that overall the ruling could affect up to 150,000 members.

In addition, under the terms of the judge's ruling, those who had paid their £25 to become registered supporters could now claim their money back, said Ms Harrison.

She added that an important aspect of the judgment was that under-18s who had signed up as members could also now vote.

Ms Harrison stated: "This case was about the right to vote under the Labour Party constitution, under which all members are equal and valued.

"This is a good day for democracy, a good day for my clients who are proud to be members of the party that stands for social justice, and a good day for the Labour Party."

The five who won the legal challenge are Ms Evangelou, Rev Edward Leir, Hannah Fordham, Chris Granger and "FM", a new member aged under 18.

Three of them - Leir, Fordham and Granger - are to receive back the £25 they paid to become registered supporters.

Mr Leir said: " The Labour Party has seen the greatest surge in membership of any party in decades, with people joining to support a process of change in this country - a change that is desperately needed both politically and economically.

"I am deeply grateful for the support of so many: the donations of over 1,700 people to support the substantial costs in taking this action for democracy."

Dr Stuart Thomson, head of public affairs at legal firm Bircham Dyson Bell, said: "T he Labour leadership election is turning into a farce.

"The legal fights over the supposed party rules are overshadowing the policy discussions that are starting to take place.

"Whereas the Conservative Party came to a swift resolution over its leader and can now get on with the job of running the country and shaping Brexit, the Labour Party is looking inwards and is still arguing amongst itself."

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