The Public Interest needs defending. But who does it need defending from? Folkestone & Hythe District Council and Councillor Russell Tillson, that’s who.
In the video below Cllr Len Laws (pictured) – Full Council 19th Dec 2018, (first speaker) makes clear that he and the planning committee should have received the legal advice for the Folkestone Seafront Development, planning application Y/17/1099/SH, initially heard on the 3rd April and deferred until 24th April to obtain legal advice on whether the application should have been a s70 application or a s73 application.
Cllr Tillson (the third speaker) weighs into the debate making it abundantly clear to the whole chamber, that the legal advice has legal professional privilege (LPP) and that was that, so no Councillor had the right to look at it. However, Cllr Tillson (pictured below) is wrong. Legal Professional Privilege, is subject to the the public interest test, yet this caveat was never mentioned. So what public interest test was undertaken on the legal advice; which was received by the Monitoring Officer of the Council, Amandeep Khroud, (pictured right)
In the Chamber at Full Council on the 19th Dec the Head of Paid Service, Dr Susan Priest and a Council legal representative were present and surely between them they knew that legal professional privilege is subject to the public interest test. Yet neither of them said a word. Neither of them corrected Cllr Tillson false and misleading assertion. If neither of them knew that LPP is subject to the Public Interest Test, we should be very concerned indeed.
Cllr Tillson’s statement is a misleading use of information; which presents comment as fact. For the Council to leave this on their webcast spreads inaccurate and/or misleading information to the public. Surely it is NOT in the interest of Council to be spreading misleading and/or false information. Given that our own MP Damian Collins Chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, released their interim report on Disinformation and Fake News in July 2018 which makes reference to misleading information no less that 13 times. The report ought to be a fitting reminding to Councillor Tillson and the Council they should not play any part in spreading disinformation, or dare we say it, fake news.
Now Cllr Laws makes clear that a synopsis of the legal advice was given to him and it identified the application ought to have been looked at as a s70 application instead of a s73.
So what is the Public Interest?
‘In the public interest’ should by no means be synonymous with ‘whatever interests the public’. We would not want to attempt a definition, to pin it down as this could end up being restrictive, but mainly because our view of what the public interest entails changes quite dramatically over time and we should be willing to fight the public-interest battle on a case-by-case basis.
However, various organisations have said it includes but is not confined to: detecting and exposing crime, or serious impropriety; protecting public health and safety and preventing the public from being misled by an action or statement of an individual or organisation. [emphasis ours].
Cllr Tillson has misled the Cllrs, the Public and the Officers by his statement that LPP is protected and under no circumstances can be divulged. The legal advice received by the Council regarding the Folkestone Seafront Development planning application does have LPP, but that as we have said is subject to the public interest test.
The information that has been placed in the public domain by Cllr Tillson is misleading and misrepresents the true position, it also does not reveal the full picture. The failure to pass on the legal advice as per what was agreed on the 3rd April did not give Cllrs on the planning committee of the 24th April a “full picture”, nor all the facts of the application in question. In fact, not having the legal advice gave Cllrs a misleading picture and misrepresented the facts.Cllrs did not have all the facts and as such did not know the full picture to base their decision upon.
On this basis the public interest in disclosure of the legal advice outweighs the public interest in keeping the legal advice from the public and as such the legal advice ought to be released.
Cllr Tillson should be informed passing of misleading comment as fact was incorrect and as such his comments should be struck from the minutes and the webcast. Also the Monitoring Officer Amandeep Khroud should release the public interest test she undertook on whether the legal advice could be disclosed. By doing each of these would protect the Public Interest and save the Council’s and Cllr Russell Tillson’s reputation from damage and/or harm.
The Shepwayvox Team – Dissent is NOT a Crime