I think some people are looking at the Webster conclusion (on the Lord Rennard issue) with somewhat rose-tinted glasses.
‘Oh’, they seem to be saying, ‘the party doesn’t believe the women complainants and decided not to take the matter to a disciplinary hearing. They could have easily taken disciplinary action.’ That is what seems to be a strand of thought out there.
Well, let’s just entertain that notion and look at what could have happened if the disciplinary route had been taken (with the usual caveat that I don’t really know what I am talking about).
There would have been a disciplinary hearing with QCs on both sides. If the case was not thrown out then, it could have been taken to the High Court. So a judge or judges would have made the call. And we have a very battle-hardened Queen’s Counsel, Alistair Webster, saying, in his view, that the evidence did not stack up to a more than 50% chance of being proven beyond reasonable doubt. No more than 50%. That is a very low bar. A very low bar. It indicates that the chances of a High court judge finding against Lord Rennard would have been negligible, if that.
So we are back to the rules. The rules need to be reviewed from top to toe, says Nick Clegg.
Except I don’t see why you would reasonably change the “reasonable doubt” rule for membership cases. Changing that rule would be wrong, and would be chasing the wrong fox.
The right thing to do is to have effective processes in place for people when they are employees, so that the process runs there and then, not four years after the cessation of employment. And I think our new pastoral officer is a huge step in the right direction on that score.
I can understand why the Webster report evidence will not be shared. (Even Lord Rennard has not and will not be shown the evidence against him). It contains material shared in confidence. But without that evidence being available to us, I don’t see how we can second guess the judgment of Mr Webster. We’ve read some pieces in the press and I have read numerous people saying how awful it was. I greatly sympathise with them. But if I don’t know the scope or seriousness of what Lord Rennard was accused of and what the counter evidence was, I can’t really assess the situation properly.
This is all very unsatisfactory but I don’t see how it could be otherwise. Instinctively, I think Lord Rennard should apologise but, without him seeing the evidence, how can he know what he is being asked to apologise for ? – unless we make the assumption that everything submitted to Mr Webster against Lord Rennard was 100% true (and the counter-evidence was 100% untrue) without Lord Rennard even seeing it or knowing what it is. – But that would be an obvious and terrible miscarriage of natural justice.