Disqualifying Criteria

September 19th, 2017 by James Goudie QC in Standards

On 18 September 2017 CLG issued a public Consultation Paper, for response by 8 December 2017, on proposals for updating prospectively the Local Government Act 1972 Section 80 and other criteria disqualifying individuals from being elected, or holding office, as a local authority member or co-opted member or directly elected mayor or member of the London Assembly. Anyone given an Anti-Social Behaviour Injunction or a Criminal Behaviour Order under the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, or added to the Sex Offenders’ Register under the Sexual Offences Act 2003, would no longer be able to hold office. Those subject to a Sexual Risk Order would not be disqualified.

 

Investigations

June 29th, 2017 by James Goudie QC in Standards

In Hussain v Sandwell MBC (2017) EWHC 1641 (Admin) the Council had conducted a “pre-formal investigation”, i.e. an investigation not conducted under the “arrangements” put in place under the Localism Act 2011 (“LA 2011”) for the formal investigation of breaches under the Code of Conduct applicable to elected Members. Read more »

 

Costs

February 7th, 2017 by James Goudie QC in Standards

In Taylor v Honiton Town Council [2017] EWHC 101 (Admin) the Court was required to determine costs following an application by Councillor Taylor for judicial review of a decision by the Council to impose sanctions upon him for a breach of its Code of Conduct.  The Council offered to abandon the sanctions and pay his costs shortly after the issue of proceedings. The Court ordered that his costs incurred before the date of the offer should be paid to him by the Council, but that the Council’s costs incurred thereafter should be paid to the Council by him.  He should have accepted the offer.  He achieved nothing of value after rejecting it.  He did no better in Court. His pursuit of the proceedings was not characterised by a genuine attempt to resolve a genuine grievance. Edis J said: Read more »

 

Sanction

December 22nd, 2016 by James Goudie QC in Standards

It is proportionate to a significant breach of the Code of Conduct to require the member in breach to undertake training in the meaning and application of the Code: Taylor v Honiton Town Council and East Devon District Council (2016) EWHC 3307 (Admin). Edis J also held that the duties of investigation of and decision upon allegations against members of the Town Council fell upon the District Council pursuant to the Localism Act 2011 and arrangements thereunder, including independent persons.

 

 

Model Code of Conduct (Wales)

March 3rd, 2016 by James Goudie QC in Standards

Section 50(2) of the Local Government Act 2000 requires a Model Code to be issued by Order as regards the conduct which is expected of members, and co-opted members, of “relevant authorities” (as defined) in Wales. These are County Councils, County Borough Councils, Community Councils, Fire and Rescue Authorities and National Park Authorities.  There was duly made the Local Authorities (Model Code of Conduct) (Wales) Order 2008, S.I. 2008/788 (W.82), (“the 2008 Order”).  The Schedule to the 2008 Order sets out such a Model Code of Conduct.

This is now amended by the Local Authorities (Model Code of Conduct) (Wales) (Amendment) Order 2016, S.I. 2016/84 (W.38), (“the 2016 Order”), coming into force on 1 April 2016. The 2016 Order recites that the Welsh Ministers (i) have carried out the requisite consultation and (ii) are satisfied that the amendments are consistent with the principles specified in the Conduct of Members (Principles) (Wales) Order 2001, S.I. 2001/2276.

Article 2 of the 2016 Order amends the following paragraphs of the Model Code set out in the Schedule to the 2008 Order:

paragraph 1(1), by inserting a definition of “register of members’ interests”;

paragraph 1(2), by inserting a definition of “proper officer” and providing clarification with regard to references to Standards Committees in relation to a Community Council;

paragraph 3(a), by omitting the reference to police Authorities;

paragraph 6(1)(c), by removing the requirement for members to report potential breaches of their Code of Conduct to the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales;

paragraphs 11(4), 15(2), 16(2) and 17, by transferring some functions from Monitoring Officers to the proper officers of Community Councils:

paragraph 12(2)(b)(iv), to reflect the new provisions contained in Part 8 of the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011 in relation to allowances and payments;

paragraph 14, by inserting new sub-paragraphs (2A) and (2B) which permit members to submit written submissions to a meeting which is dealing with a matter in respect of which a member has a prejudicial interest: written submissions are permitted only in those circumstances in which a member would otherwise be permitted to make oral representations to a meeting in relation to a matter, and if the member’s authority adopts a procedure for the submission of written submissions, members must comply with that procedure;

paragraph 15 is restated. The restatement clarifies that any interest disclosed, whether that interest is disclosed in accordance with paragraphs 11 or 15 of the Model Code, should be registered in the authority’s register of members’ interests, by giving notification to the Monitoring Officer, or, in relation to a Community Council, to the proper officer of that authority.

Article 2 of the Order omits paragraph 10(2)(b) of the Model Code set out in the Schedule to the 2008 Order. This clarifies that a member of a relevant authority is not to be regarded as having a personal interest in a matter when making, or participating in, decisions on behalf of the authority simply for the reason that the business being considered at the meeting affects that member’s ward.

 

Conduct of Members

December 2nd, 2015 by James Goudie QC in Standards

The Welsh Government has issued a Consultation, for response by 10 January 2016, seeking views on the contents of two Statutory Instruments, both to be made under Part III of the Local Government Act 2000, in relation to the conduct of councillors in Wales.  They are the Local Government (Standards Committees, Investigations, Dispensations and Referral) (Wales) Regulations 2016 and the Local Authorities (Model Code of Conduct) (Wales) (Amendment) Order 2016.

The draft Code Amendment Order amends paragraph 15(2) of the Model Code to put it beyond doubt that all personal interests disclosed under paragraph 11 of the Code, not just those financial and other interests falling within a category mentioned in paragraph 10(2)(a), should be entered in the register of members’ interests. The draft Code Amendment Order omits from the Model Code the requirement to report a potential breach to the Ombudsman.  The requirement to report a breach to the Monitoring Officer is retained. This does not prevent a member from quite properly reporting a potentially serious breach of the Code to the Ombudsman.

Paragraph 10(2)(b) of the Model Code provides that a member has a personal interest in a matter if a member of the public might reasonably perceive a conflict between their role in taking a decision on that matter on behalf of the authority as a whole, and their role in representing the interests of constituents in their ward or electoral division, as appropriate. This aspect of the Code has given rise to unintended consequences in its practical application. The equivalent provision in the 2001 Model Code of Conduct was framed so as to apply to an executive member acting alone in taking a decision on behalf of the authority. The wider wording of the provision in the 2008 Code has been read by authorities as applying to members when acting collectively, e.g. on a planning or licensing committee, and has been seen as potentially precluding members from participating in any decisions affecting their ward.  Paragraph 10(2)(b) is also potentially in conflict with Section 25 of the Localism Act 2011, which aims to clarify the law covering predetermination in England and Wales.

The draft Code Amendment Order omits paragraph 10(2)(b) from the Model Code in order to overcome the practical difficulties encountered with respect to constituency interests.  However, a member taking a decision on a matter should keep an open mind until they are in full possession of all relevant facts and act objectively and in the public interest in accordance with paragraph 8 of the Model Code.

 The draft Standards Committee Regulations amend the Standards Committees (Wales) Regulations 2001, SI 2001/2283, the Local Government Investigations (Functions of Monitoring Officers and Standards Committees) (Wales) Regulations 2001, SI 2001/2281, and the Standards Committees (Grant of Dispensations) (Wales) Regulations 2001, SI 2001/2279.  There are amendments to facilitate the establishment and operation of Joint Standards Committees; a change to the term of office of local authority members of Standards Committees; changes in relation to the publication of misconduct reports; provision for the referral of misconduct reports to another authority’s Standards Committee; limitation upon the period of suspension imposed by a Standards Committee so that it does not extend beyond the end of a member’s term of office; a proposed procedure for an application for permission to appeal a Standards Committee determination to the Adjudication Panel for Wales; and provision for the referral of a dispensation application to another authority’s Standards Committee.

 

Restrictions on Freedom of Expression

May 21st, 2014 by James Goudie QC in Standards

Heesom v Public Service Ombudsman for Wales [2014] EWHC 1504 (Admin) is a statutory appeal to the Administrative Court in Wales from the Adjudication Panel for Wales.  It concerns a long standing Councillor about whose conduct a complaint was submitted to the Ombudsman by all Flintshire County Council’s Senior Officers.  The Ombudsman referred to the Panel alleged breaches of the Council’s Codes of Conduct.  A Case Tribunal found 14 breaches established and imposed a sanction of disqualification.

Mr Heesom challenged the Tribunal’s decision on three grounds, namely:-

  1. The Tribunal erred in adopting the wrong standard of proof, i.e. the civil as opposed to the criminal standard;
  2. The Tribunal erred in its findings as to breaches of the Codes of Conduct; and
  3.  Insofar as its findings of breach were properly made, the Tribunal erred in finding that they were such as to justify the sanction imposed.

    The appeal thus gives rise to the following important issues:-

  1. The appropriate standard of proof in an adjudication by a Case Tribunal of the Adjudication Panel for Wales; and
  2. The scope of and legitimate restrictions to a politician’s right of freedom of expression under Article 10 of the European Convention for Human Rights (“the ECHR”) and at common law, particularly in relation to officers’ rights and interests which might be adversely affected by the purported exercise of those rights.

    As to (1), Hickinbottom J held that the appropriate standard of proof was the civil standard.

    As to (2), Hickinbottom J formulated the following propositions:-

  1. The enhanced protection accorded to freedom of expression in the political sphere applies to all levels of politics, including local.
  2. Article 10 protects not only the substance of what is said, but also the form in which it is conveyed. Therefore, in the political context, a degree of the immoderate, offensive, shocking, disturbing, exaggerated, provocative, polemical, colourful, emotive, non-rational and aggressive, that would not be acceptable outside that context, is tolerated.  Whilst, in a political context, Article 10 protects the right to make incorrect but honestly made statements, it does not protect statements which the publisher knows to be false.
  3. Politicians have enhanced protection as to what they say in the political arena; but Strasbourg also recognises that, because they are public servants engaged in politics, who voluntarily enter that arena and have the right and ability to respond to commentators (any response, too, having the advantage of enhanced protection), politicians are subject to “wider limits of acceptable criticism”. They are expected and required to have thicker skins and have more tolerance to comment than ordinary citizens.
  4. Enhanced protection therefore applies, not only to politicians, but also to those who comment upon politics and politicians, notably the press; because the right protects, more broadly, the public interest in a democracy of open discussion of matters of public concern. Thus, so far as freedom of speech is concerned, many of the cases concern the protection of, not a politician’s right, but the right of those who criticise politicians.
  5. The protection goes to “political expression”; but that is a broad concept in this context. It is not limited to expressions of or critiques of political views, but rather extends to all matters of public administration and public concern including comments about the adequacy or inadequacy of performance of public duties by others. The cases are careful not unduly to restrict the concept; although gratuitous personal comments do not fall within it.
  6. The cases draw a distinction between fact on the one hand, and comment on matters of public interest involving value judgment on the other. As the latter is unsusceptible of proof, comments in the political context amounting to value judgments are tolerated even if untrue, so long as they have some – any – factual basis. What amounts to a value judgment as opposed to fact will be generously construed in favour of the former; and, even where something expressed is not a value judgment but a statement of fact (e.g. that a council has not consulted on a project), that will be tolerated if what is expressed is said in good faith and there is some reasonable (even if incorrect) factual basis for saying it, “reasonableness” here taking account of the political context in which the thing was said.
  7.  As Article 10(2) expressly recognises, the right to freedom of speech brings with it duties and responsibilities. In most instances, where the State seeks to impose a restriction on the right under Article 10(2), the determinative question is whether the restriction is “necessary in a democratic society”. This requires the restriction to respond to a “pressing social need”, for relevant and sufficient reasons; and to be proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued by the State.
  8. As with all Convention rights that are not absolute, the State has a margin of appreciation in how it protects the right of freedom of expression and how it restricts that right.  However, that margin must be construed narrowly in this context. There is little scope under Article 10(2) for restrictions on political speech or on debate on questions of public interest.
  9. Similarly, because of the importance of freedom of expression in the political arena, any interference with that right (either of politicians or in criticism of them) calls for the closest scrutiny by the Court.

As regards the position of non-elected public servants, Hickinbottom J observed as follows:-

  1. They are, of course, open to criticism, including public criticism; but they are involved in assisting with and implementing policies, not (like politicians) making them. As well as in their own private interests in terms of honour, dignity and reputation, it is in the public interest that they are not subject to unwarranted comments that disenable them from performing their public duties and undermine public confidence in the administration. Therefore, in the public interest, it is a legitimate aim of the State to protect public servants from unwarranted comments that have, or may have, that adverse effect on good administration.
  2. Nevertheless, the acceptable limits of criticism are wider for non-elected public servants acting in an official capacity than for private individuals, because, as a result of their being in public service, it is appropriate that their actions and behaviour are subject to more thorough scrutiny. However, the limits are not as wide as for elected politicians, who come to the arena voluntarily and have the ability to respond in kind which non-elected public servants do not.
  3. Where critical comment is made of a non-elected public servant, such that the public interest in protecting him as well as his private interests are in play, the requirement to protect that public servant must be weighed against the interest of open discussion of matters of public concern and, if the relevant comment was made by a politician in political expression, the enhanced protection given to his right of freedom of expression.

 

Breach of Code of Conduct

January 8th, 2014 by James Goudie QC in Standards

In R (Dennehy) v Ealing LBC (2013) EWHC 4102 (Admin) a Councillor’s application for permission to apply for Judicial Review of a decision by a Standards Committee that he had breached the Council’s Code of Conduct failed.  The Committee had found that a post on the Councillor’s blog about Southall residents failed to treat others with respect and brought the Council and the office of Councillor into disrepute.  The Judge concluded that the decision and the sanctions imposed were plainly a proportionate interference with the Councillor’s ECHR Article 10 rights in the light of the other interests identified in the ECHR.  The sanctions were to request an apology and the publication of a neutral notice of the decision on the Council’s website and in the local newspaper.  The Judge noted that the comments about Southall residents were contained in a separate section of the blog from those which raised legitimate topics of political debate. “They were not the expression of a political view, but an unjustified personal and generic attack on a section of the public. The subjects of the speech were not politicians but ordinary members of the public and, as such, the comments did not attract the higher level of protection applicable to political expressions and the comments would plainly have undermined confidence in local government, the preservation of which is a recognised aim of the code”.

 

Standards

May 4th, 2012 by James Goudie QC in Standards

In R (Calver) v Adjudication Panel for Wales [2012] EWHC 1172 (Admin) Mr Calver was a member of Manorbier Community Council who successfully challenged the decision of the Panel to dismiss his appeal against a decision by Prembrokeshire County Council Standards Committee censuring him for a number of comments or blogs posted by him on a website he owned and controlled.  Beatson J said, at para 5 of his Judgment: The overarching question before the court is whether the defendant’s decision that the claimant’s comments put him in breach of the Code of Conduct erred in law or is otherwise flawed in public law terms. The answer to that question principally depends on whether the Panel’s decision failed to give sufficient weight to the claimant’s right to free expression under the common law and Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights (“the Convention”). This in turn involves considering whether the defendant erred in finding the comments did not constitute political expression attracting an enhanced level of protection under Article 10, and whether or not they attract that enhanced level of protection, whether the decision that thirteen of the comments broke the Code of Conduct and to censure the claimant was a disproportionate interference with his right under Article 10.”

Beatson J ruled (paras 66-67) that (1) the Committee and the Panel were entitled to conclude that Cllr Calver’s comments breached the Code of Conduct: they were sarcastic and mocking; (2) the Panel was entitled to take a cumulative view of the effect of the postings: the use of a sarcastic tone about colleagues on the Council over a long period would justify a conclusion that Cllr Calver had not shown respect and consideration for his colleagues on the Council; and (3) the Panel was entitled to conclude that the tone of the postings publicly ridiculed his fellow members, particularly in the light of the number of postings and their cumulative effect.

However, it was necessary then to go on to consider whether, a finding of breach of the Code of Conduct being prima facie an infringement of Article 10, it was justified.   Beatson J said: 

“73.     It is common ground that the court, in considering whether the Panel failed to accord sufficient weight to the claimant’s rights to freedom of expression, has to decide for itself whether those rights were accorded sufficient weight, having due regard to the decision of the Panel. The court must “have due regard” to the judgment of the primary decision-maker, in this case the Panel. This is because the Panel, the statutory regulator, consists of persons identified by Parliament to apply the Code because of its knowledge and experience of local government: … But “due regard” does not mean that the process is only one of review: it is the court which has to decide whether the Panel has violated the claimant’s right to freedom of expression.

74.       The Code seeks to maintain standards and to ensure that the conduct of public life at the local government level, including political debate, does not fall below a minimum level so as … “to engender public confidence in local democracy”. … There is a clear public interest in maintaining confidence in local government. But in assessing what conduct should be proscribed and the extent to which sarcasm and ridicule should be, it is necessary to bear in mind the importance of freedom of political expression or speech in the political sphere …”

“76.     It is in the context of what constitutes “respect and consideration” and “bringing your office or authority into disrepute” in a local government context that the Panel’s expertise is of particular relevance. …”

Beatson J went on, however, to find that the Panel had fallen into error in a number of respects.  He concluded (para 80) that the Panel took an over-narrow view of what amounts to political expression, and (para 81) that no account was taken in the Panel’s decision about the need for politicians to have thicker skins than others.  Those errors limited the weight that could be given to its findings.  It thus fell to the Court to determine the issue of proportionately according to the Panel’s decision less weight than it would otherwise have.  Beatson J concluded (para 84):  “… in the light of the strength of the right to freedom of expression, particularly in the present context, and the fact that the majority of the comments posted were directed at other members of the Community Council, the Panel’s decision that they broke the Code is a disproportionate interference with the claimant’s rights under Article 10 of the Convention.”

 

 

Public Sector Equality Duty, Localism Act, Rating & Standards

April 16th, 2012 by James Goudie QC in Human Rights and Public Sector Equality Duty, Standards

 Surrey County Council conducted a review of its Library Service.  This culminated in a Report to the Council’s Cabinet.  The Recommendations in the Report included that there should be consultation about a community-partnership approach at selected Libraries.  The Report stated that such an approach would require skills new to the Service.  Specific reference was made to the need for training.  Following the consultation period, the Cabinet, having considered a further Report, described as a “progress update”, decided that Library provision in certain areas should be delivered via a community-partnership model whereby Libraries would be staffed by volunteers.  This decision was successfully challenged by judicial review in R (Williams) v Surrey County Council [2012] EWHC 867 (Admin).  Wilkie J held that the Council had breached its duty in s149 of Equality Act 2010 by failing to consider a relevant matter, namely the nature and extent of the equality training needs of the volunteers and the way in which such needs might be met.  By the time of the ultimate decision there must have been a significant amount of material which would have put flesh on the bare bones of the earlier conclusion that a change of this magnitude would require significant training of volunteers, particularly in respect of equality duties.  However, there was nothing in the later Report beyond a repetition that training would need to be provided.  What should have been included was the nature and extent of the equality training needs of volunteers which had emerged from the consultation with community groups and the way in which these training needs might be met.

The Supreme Court decision in McDonald v Kensington and Chelsea RLBC is now reported at [2012] LGR 107.

Localism Act

Note the Localism Act 2011 (Commencement No 5 etc) Order, SI 2012/1008 (C.32), bringing into operation various provisions of the Act on 4 April, 3 May, 4 May and 31 May 2012 and 31 January 2013; the Local Authorities (Arrangements for the Discharge of Functions) (England) Regulations, SI 2012/1019, enabling arrangements to be made for the discharge of functions, which are the responsibility of a local authority executive, by another local authority or an executive of another local authority, and enabling a local authority to make arrangements for the discharge of its functions, which are not the responsibility of an executive of that authority, by the executive of another local authority; the Local Authorities (Committee System) (England) Regulations, SI 2012/1020, specifying functions which cannot be delegated by a committee system local authority and therefore must be carried out by the full council of that authority, and dealing with overview and scrutiny committees within committee systems of local authorities; the Local Authorities (Overview and Scrutiny Committees) (England) Regulations, SI 2012/1021, giving such Committees power to obtain information from relevant partner authorities, and requiring executives of local authorities to exclude confidential information when publishing their responses to reports and recommendations of such Committees; the Overview and Scrutiny (Reference by Councillors) (Excluded Matters) (England) Order, SI 2012/1022, specifying descriptions of matters that cannot be referred to an overview and scrutiny committee by a member of the authority who is not also a member of the committee; and the Localism Act 2011 (Local Authority Governance Transitional Provisions) (England) Order 2012, SI 2012/1023.

Rating

Note the Non-Domestic Rating and Business Rate Supplements (Deferred Payments) (England) Regulations, SI  2012/994.

Standards

CLG has published an illustrative text that councils can, if they choose, use as a basis for their new Local Code of Conduct.

On “official capacity”, as distinct from political capacity, see the FTT Decisions on 4 April 2012 in Councillor Tambourides v Barnet LBC Standards Committee, Case No: LGS/2011/0573, and Councillor Abbas v Tower Hamlets LBC Standards Committee, Case No: LGS/2011/0574.