Race-bias claim against AUT dogs Labour official

March 21, 2003

Labour Party general secretary David Triesman will face renewed accusations of racism after a serial litigant was granted permission by law lords to resurrect his claims against the Association of University Teachers.

Mr Triesman, formerly AUT general secretary, faces a series of claims after Suresh Deman persuaded the Court of Appeal to throw out a 1999 tribunal ruling that he had not been discriminated against by the AUT when it rejected his request for legal help in a dispute with Queen's University, Belfast.

The original tribunal highlighted "incompetence and corner-cutting" and singled out Mr Triesman for criticism. It also criticised former AUT president Joanna De Groot, who is currently vice-chair of the Institute for Learning and Teaching.

Mr Deman, a US citizen of Indian origin, was an accountancy lecturer at Queen's until he was sacked in 1995 after a dispute over the theft of a number of his possessions. In 1996, he lodged a tribunal claim against the national AUT, saying it had failed to support him in his dispute with Queen's, and failed to investigate claims that he had suffered discrimination from the local AUT.

The AUT insisted it could not offer Mr Deman any legal help because he had refused representation from the union's regular Belfast solicitors, Hanna and Co.

The north London tribunal rejected Mr Deman's claims in 1999, but was critical of the AUT's handling of the matter. The tribunal said Mr Deman had genuine conflict-of-interest concerns about using Hanna and Co because of his run-ins with the AUT Belfast branch.

Dr De Groot, a York University lecturer who was on the AUT executive, was criticised for presiding over Mr Deman's appeal against the legal-aid decision when she had been involved in the original decision. The tribunal also said she was a "patronising, unreliable and evasive" witness.

Mr Triesman, the tribunal said, "displayed a surprising degree of naivety and ignorance as to the reality of discrimination on the shop floor". But the tribunal concluded that the picture was one of "incompetence and corner-cutting", not race discrimination.

The Court of Appeal ruled last week that the tribunal had not given proper reasons for its conclusion. A hearing is expected later this year.

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