Investigation

June 22nd, 2020 by James Goudie QC in Standards

For the refusal of an injunction to stop the investigation of complaints against a councillor about his conduct, see Bishop v Public Services Ombudsman for Wales (2020) EWHC 1503 (Admin). The importance of expression in the political sphere is reiterated at para 13.

 

Talking in public

March 3rd, 2020 by James Goudie QC in Standards

A press conference given by senior politicians is not to be regarded as an occasion for casual statements. On the contrary, “there is a clear public interest that politicians talking in public should observe high accuracy and fairness”. This is because “the public need to know the position” and are inevitably influenced by what politicians say. See paragraph 36 in Ramadhar v Ramadhar (2020) UKPC 7.

On the other hand (paragraph 37), those who are themselves engaged in public life and courted the media, cannot expect to be free from scrutiny or criticism in public. “Politicians cannot expect to be free from banter and ridicule, good-humoured or otherwise, or from scrutiny of their motives”. If politicians were entitled to be protected (by the law of defamation) against mere criticism, that might have a “chilling effect on democratic debate”. As Brendeis J said in the UK Supreme Court, “sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants”. Lady Arden added, at paragraph 43: “Politicians are not expected to be shrinking violets when answering their critics or giving their opinion as to what is in the public interest”; and, at paragraph 54, “The need for politicians to follow high standards in political debate and the expectation that politicians should be open to reasonable criticism are universal features of a democratic society”.

 

Artificial Intelligence

February 11th, 2020 by James Goudie QC in Standards

The Committee on Standards in Public Life has on 10 February 2020 published a Report on artificial intelligence (“AI”) and its impact on public standards, with Recommendations to Government. The Committee concluded that (i) the Seven Nolan Principles of Public Life remain a valid guide for public sector practice; (2) a new AI regulator is not required, but all regulators must adapt to the challenges that AI poses; and (3) all public bodies must comply with the law surrounding data-driven technology and implement clear, risk-based governance for their use of AI.

 

Probity in Planning

December 23rd, 2019 by James Goudie QC in Standards

The LGA has published an updated Guide on Probity in Planning for Councillors and Officers making planning decisions.  It addresses the planning system and the role of decision makers; Councillor and Officer conduct; registration and disclosure of interests; predisposition, predetermination, or bias; development proposals; lobbying of and by councillors; discussions before a decision is taken; Officer Reports to Committee; public speaking at Planning Committees; decisions which differ from a Recommendation; Committee Site Visits; reviewing past Planning Decisions and the outcomes; and complaints and record keeping.

 

Review

February 1st, 2019 by James Goudie QC in Standards

The Committee on Standards in Public Life, chaired by former M15 head, Lord Evans of Weardale, on 30 January 2019 issued a 110 page Report to the Prime Minister, following its review of local government ethical standards in England. The Report concludes that, whilst the consistency and independence of the system could be enhanced, there is no need to reintroduce a centralised body, and that local authorities should retain ultimate responsibility for implementing and applying the Seven Principles of Public Life in local government.

The Report makes 23 Recommendations. The Report also contains a list of 15 “best practice” recommendations, directed to local authorities.

 

Disqualification

October 19th, 2018 by James Goudie QC in Standards

On 18 October 2018 the Government announced new disqualification rules to prevent people found guilty of serious crimes, notably sex crimes, from serving as councillors and mayors. The new strengthened rules are designed to prevent people found guilty of serious crimes from serving on local councils. The new rules will mean any person who is subject to an Anti-Social Behaviour Injunction, a Criminal Behaviour Order, a Sexual Risk Order or who is on the Sex Offenders’ Register, will no longer be able to stand for elected office in their community.  Current conditions make clear that anyone convicted of an offence carrying a prison sentence of more than 3 months is banned from serving as a local councillor. The new measures will strengthen this further by bringing disqualification rules to include the alternatives to a prison sentence as a barrier to becoming a councillor. Anyone convicted of a serious offence that results in a sentence covered under the new disqualification criteria will be banned from standing for election, or would be forced to step down if they were convicted whilst in post. Read more »

 

Publication

July 3rd, 2018 by James Goudie QC in Standards

In Taveta v FRC (2018) EWHC 1662 (Admin) Nicklin J made a number of important observations, including:-

“37.    The implied suggestion in the word “leaked” that there was something inappropriate in the media being told about the proceedings was wholly misplaced. Although, as a matter of practical expediency, urgent applications in the Administrative Court are routinely dealt with on paper, that does not in any way suggest that they are secret. The principle of open justice applies to these applications just as much to hearings in open court. As is clear from what is set out above, the Court has been astute to ensure that this matter has been conducted as far as possible in open court.”

Read more »

 

Complaint of Member Misconduct

June 21st, 2018 by James Goudie QC in Standards

In Bennis v Stratford-on-Avon District Council, EA/2017/0220, the FTT said (para 29) that details of unsubstantiated complaints against Councillors ought not generally to be disclosed to the world at large under the provisions of FOIA.  The proper approach to such information is to consider the rights of the councillor concerned as a data subject.

The FTT however did not consider exemptions under Section 36 of FOIA to prevail. The request for disclosure was of advice that the Council had received when considering the complaint that was not upheld. The advice had been provided to the MO by an Independent Person (“the IP”) under the Localism Act 2011.  Given that the IP’s views would in any event have become public if a hearing had been directed, transparency prevailed over the risk of disclosure inhibiting the IP’s views.

 

Ambit of Code of Conduct

May 23rd, 2018 by James Goudie QC in Standards

The main issue in R (Harvey) v Ledbury Town Council (2018) EWHC 1151 (Admin) was an issue as to jurisdiction, namely a dispute between the parties as to whether it was open to the Council to proceed against a member outside its Code of Conduct under the Localism Act 2011 (“the 2011 Act”).  Cockerill J held that the Council by doing so acted ultra vires. It was contrary to the intention of Parliament as expressed in the 2011 Act to run a process in tandem with or as an alternative to the Code of Conduct process envisaged by the 2011 Act: Judgment, paragraph 103.
Cockerill J said:- Read more »

 

Ethics

January 30th, 2018 by James Goudie QC in Standards

The Committee on Standards in Public Life has on 29 January 2018 initiated a review of and consultation upon local government ethical standards, for responses by 18 May 2018. The consultation questions are: Read more »