Page last updated at 23:03 GMT, Friday, 12 March 2010

BNP membership rules still discriminatory, court rules

Nick Griffin: "It's a bad day for democracy"

The British National Party has been forced to rewrite its rules again after a court said they were discriminatory.

The BNP voted to scrap its whites-only membership policy last month after a legal threat from equality watchdogs.

Instead, it said members had to sign up to maintaining the "integrity of the indigenous British" and be interviewed for up to two hours by BNP officials.

A judge at Central London County Court ruled that the new constitution was still likely to be discriminatory.

Judge Paul Collins ordered the party to pay £60,000 in costs and said its membership list must remain "closed" until it complied with race relations laws.

Delivering his ruling, he said: "I hold that the BNP are likely to commit unlawful acts of discrimination within section 1b Race Relations Act 1976 in the terms on which they are prepared to admit persons to membership under the 12th addition of their constitution."

By Ross Hawkins, Political correspondent, BBC News

The court did not find anything illegal about the BNP's beliefs, but it did rule the party could not use them to choose its members.

A 17-page judgement highlighted the party's policy of requiring new members to allow BNP officials to come to their homes for interviews lasting up to two hours.

It pointed to clauses in the party's constitution that pledged to foster the integrity of "the indigenous British" and reverse immigration.

None of that broke the law. But Judge Paul Collins suggested no-one who was not "indigenous British" could sign up to these requirements without compromising their "personal sense of self-worth and dignity as a member of their racial group".

That is why he argued the BNP would be likely to commit unlawful acts of discrimination under race relations law - and why he ordered the party's constitution had to change.

But BNP leader Nick Griffin said the party had made the changes to its constitution demanded by the court - and as a result had now started accepting members again.

He told the BBC News Channel: "I think it's appalling. The court have opened a huge can of worms here, they have given a government funded, a taxpayer-funded body the right to interfere with the aims and objectives of political parties.

"That's not just an attack on us. It's an attack potentially on any political party. It's a bad day for democracy from that point of view."

A spokeswoman for the Equality and Human Rights Commission said it "had to take this action" and was "not concerned with the political outflow" of the ruling.

She added: "As long as they comply with the court order then that is fine, but obviously we are going to be looking carefully at the new constitution when it is issued. If we still think it is racist in any kind of way, we will either be bringing this matter back to the court, under contempt of court proceedings, or we will be issuing new proceedings."

The constitution rejected by the court asked members to sign up to the BNP's principles, including a duty to oppose the promotion of any form of "integration or assimilation" that impacted on the "indigenous British", and a requirement to support the "maintenance and existence of the unity and integrity of the indigenous British".

'Waiting list'

It also stated that members have to agree to two party officials - one male and one female - visiting their home for up to two hours.

A lawyer acting for the Equality and Human Rights Commission said this could be used to enable potential members to be intimidated, although there was no evidence it had been used in that way.

BNP rules judged 'discriminatory'

Mr Griffin said this was an "entirely normal" procedure to prevent the infiltration of people who wanted to sabotage the party and "find out what sort of people wanted to join the BNP".

But he said it would now be scrapped to comply with the ruling, adding: "You don't have to agree to a home visit in order to be a member of the BNP."

He claimed there were 7,000 people on its membership waiting list, including a "handful" of people "from each of the main ethnic groups in Britain" including Sikhs, West Indians and "two Chinese ladies".

"We certainly won't put them to the front of the queue, that's for the Labour Party to put ethnic minorities to the front of the queue, we won't do that, but we will treat them fairly," he said.

Speaking earlier, Mr Griffin said being forced to pay costs would have "some effect" on the general election campaign "but not a huge amount".

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