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The strange recusal of Narendra Makanji

This is a guest post by amie

This morning the case that I set out to observe before the Information Tribunal ended very quickly, in a surprising way. The matter had been dragging on for 18 months, with King’s College London resisting attempts to extract any information on whether any students had been disciplined as a result of the violent anti Israel protest there, which shut down an Israeli speaker in 2016. The Information Commissioner had upheld the College’s refusal to disclose information about whether any students (without naming them) had been disciplined, and if so how many, on the grounds that this would identify the students in breach of the Data Protection Act. This was now on appeal before a tribunal consisting of the chair, a QC, assisted by two lay tribunal members.

The barrister for the Information Commissioner apparently has known the composition of the panel for some 4 weeks, while the applicant, Julian Hunt, only got this information on Friday evening, after some prompting. Over the weekend, some online research revealed a minefield of anti Israel tweets by someone bearing the same name as one of the lay members of the panel, one Narendra Makanji. He has retweeted the pro BDS tweet of Kate Osamor on 9th December, by which time he would have been appointed to hear this matter.

https://www.thejc.com/news/uk-news/labour-friends-of-israel-question-frontbencher-kate-osamor-over-bds-policy-1.450220

Purely incidentally, Mr Makanji’s twitter account reflects an avid supporter of Momentum and Corbyn. According to Linkdin, he appears to have been a councillor at Haringey from 1982-2006, and a tribunal member for the past 14 years.

The distasteful duty of calling for Mr Makanji’s recusal fell to the QC appearing pro bono. The chair announced a 15 minute adjournment to consider this unexpected development. What followed had the appearance of one of those clocks with mechanical revolving figures: Three people exited the room from the bench, and almost without time to draw breath, let alone exchange words, two people impassively came back in. The case is now postponed, with a new panel to hear it at some future date.

I wonder whether lay members of tribunals get the same strictures regarding social media as judges, as set out by Joshua Rozenberg in his account of this morning’s proceedings, but the lack of self awareness from Mr Makanji of any conflict is staggering. I speculate that this is in part at least owing to the Corbynisation; that is, normalisation of such comments about Israel, such that there is no longer any sense of transgression of boundaries.

https://www.facebook.com/JoshuaRozenbergQC/posts/388006141621308