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Agenda Item No

 

The Vale of Glamorgan Council

 

Standards Committee: 12th November, 2012

 

Report of the Monitoring Officer

 

Guidance from the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales Regarding the Code of Conduct

 

Purpose of the Report

1.             To advise Members of the Committee in the light of a recent decision of the High Court concerning the Code of Conduct of a Member.

Recommendation

That the contents of the report be noted.

Reason for the Recommendation

Having regard to a recent ruling of the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales.

 

Background

2.             The Guidance issued by the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales on the Code of Conduct for Members of local authorities in Wales provides an overview of the Model Code of Conduct, introduced in 2008.  It is intended to help Members understand their obligations under the Code which applies to all Members and Co-opted Members of local authorities and Town and Community Councils. 

3.             The Guidance is revised from time to time to reflect case law and any changes to the Code. 

Relevant Issues and Options

4.             A Member challenged the findings of the Adjudication Panel for Wales to uphold his Council's Standards Committee's decision to censor him for breaching paragraph 4(b) of the Code of Conduct by failing to show respect and consideration to his fellow Councillors.  The Court found that whilst the comments which were posted on a website operated by the Member were sarcastic and mocking, and the tone ridiculed his fellow Councillors, because the majority of the comments related to the way in which the Council was run and the competence of the Councillors, the comments were 'political expression'.  The ruling found that the Adjudication Panel took an over-narrow view of what amounts to political expression and no account had been taken of the need for politicians to have 'thicker skins'.  In view of the Member's entitlement to freedom of expression, and the fact that the majority of comments were directed at fellow Councillors, the finding of a breach of the Code in this case was a disproportionate interference with the Member's rights under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.  The Standards Committee's decision to censor the Member was therefore set aside.

5.             The impact of this ruling was that the Ombudsman would have to apply a higher threshold when deciding whether to investigate any conduct complained about which may be regarded as being 'political expression'.  He has stated that he will not therefore investigate such cases where 'political' criticisms are made, regardless of the tone of the exchange. 

6.             The Ombudsman has also indicated that allegations of disrespectful behaviour towards officers, particularly those who may hold senior positions, would also be considered in the light of this ruling.

7.             The Ombudsman has issued revised Guidance on the Code of Conduct, which includes the impact of the ruling and other amendments.  It is available for inspection on the website http://www.ombudsman-wales.org.uk/.

Resource Implications (Financial and Employment)

8.             There are no resource implications as a result of this report.

Sustainability and Climate Change Implications

9.             There are no sustainability and climate change implications as a result of this report.

Legal Implications (to Include Human Rights Implications)

10.        The High Court matter which has resulted in the guidance change is Calver, R (on the Application of) v The Adjudication Panel for Wales.

Crime and Disorder Implications

11.        There are no crime and disorder implications as a result of this report.

Equal Opportunities Implications (to include Welsh Language issues)

12.        There are no equal opportunity implications as a result of this report.

Corporate/Service Objectives

13.        None.

Policy Framework and Budget

14.        This report does not affect the Council's Policy Framework and Budget.

Consultation (including Ward Member Consultation)

15.        This report does not involve any consultation with other parties.

Relevant Scrutiny Committee

16.        None.

Background Papers

None.

Contact Officer

Mr. C. Hope, telephone (01446) 709855,

e-mail: democratic@valeofglamorgan.gov.uk

 

Officers Consulted

None.

 

Responsible Officer:

Ms. D. Marles

Monitoring Officer