Labour legal fees reach £1.4mn as party pursues former employees over leaked report

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The Labour party has spent £1.4mn in legal fees on a bitter dispute with five former staff accused of leaking an internal report and expects to spend another £868,000 as the case progresses, according to a court document seen by the Financial Times. 

Labour is battling five former employees, including Jeremy Corbyn’s former director of communications Seamus Milne and his chief of staff Karie Murphy.

The individuals deny leaking the report by the party’s governance and legal unit into antisemitism claims against some Labour members.

The party claimed that the former staff were legally responsible for leaking the report on April 11 2020, just days after Sir Keir Starmer replaced Corbyn as leader.

Labour is concerned about the spiralling costs of the legal case and the distraction it poses as the party prepares for the general election next year.

The case was expected to go to trial next year. But, at the High Court this week, Labour sought to delay the civil trial until after the general election takes place. The ruling on whether the case should be delayed has been adjourned until December.

The 860-page report, called The work of the Labour Party’s Governance and Legal Unit in relation to antisemitism 2014-19, claimed that attempts by the party to tackle complaints had been hampered by factional hostility. 

The report was compiled during Corbyn’s leadership to be submitted to an investigation by the equalities watchdog, the Equalities and Human Rights Commission.

The report included private comments from Labour officials criticising Corbyn and his aides and revealed instances of alleged sexism and racism. 

The five former staff being sued by Labour include Georgie Robertson, Harry Hayball and Laura Murray.

A subsequent investigation by the Information Commissioner’s Office, which polices data breaches, and an internal probe by lawyer Martin Forde KC were unable to identify the source of the leak.

Anya Proops KC, representing the Labour party, at the High Court sought to delay the trial until after January 2025, the date by which the next general election must be held, arguing that without a delay there was a “greater risk of this adversely clashing with the general election”.

Proops argued that the party “in particular its in-house legal team — will inevitably face extraordinarily intense demands on its time, focus and resources generally in the run-up to and at the time of the election”.

The five former employees have already incurred substantial costs and face further “budgeted legal costs of £1.1mn”, according to Proops’s written arguments. According to the documents, Labour’s legal costs have already reached £1.4mn, with a further potential £868,000 expected.

A Labour spokesperson did not dispute the figures. “The party has conducted a wide-ranging and appropriately thorough investigation following the leak and is confident of the case it has presented to the court,” he said.

Barrister Jacob Dean acting for the five individuals argued against a postponement and claimed that the lawsuit had “understandably caused very serious distress” to his clients.

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