On May 6th 2021, the electorate in the Folkestone & Hythe District are being asked to attend a local polling station to vote for one of twenty four candidates, standing in five divisions (wards) for County Cllrs, and thirteen Town & Parish Cllrs standing in four wards. If any of those standing are lucky enough to be elected a councillor, they will very quickly be informed, the respective council to which they’ve been elected has, and indeed by law has to have, a Code of Conduct they have to follow. In practice most Council’s take over, with few if any amendments, the model code provided by the government. This covers such obvious matters as declaring interests, keeping secrets and acting impartially and with integrity on matters like planning applications. But it also goes a good deal further, taking in what are essentially matters of civic virtue. For example, it requires, in a fairly open-ended way, that you treat others with respect, and avoid doing anything that might be regarded as bringing your office or authority into disrepute.
All perfectly clear and understandable. However, what happens if a Cllr breaks the code? This is where things become more interesting. In England, the Conservative – Lib Dem Coalition government introduced legislation ten years ago. This is known as the Localism Act 2011 which sets out in Chapter 7, section 26 to 37 and Schedule 4; the legislation governing Codes of Conduct for Cllr.
In the rare event of breach of the code by a Cllr, the Council can reprimand them; it can name them and shame them. It can request they undergo implicit bias training; it can keep them off particular committees. In extreme cases it can even require them to be chaperoned when on council premises. They can also, of course, be publicly disowned by their own party, if they say or do something really outrageous. But one thing is not allowed: they CANNOT be administratively removed or suspended, or excluded from council meetings.
The only exceptions to this are where they are bankrupted, or imprisoned for three months following a criminal conviction, or fail to show up for meetings for six months, all of which legally disqualify them. But nothing short of that will suffice. This is on the understandable basis that if we believe in local democracy, then, extreme cases aside, it is only the electorate which hired them should be able to fire them.
The Code of Conduct for Folkestone & Hythe District Council is set out in Part 9.1 of the Constitution.
The meeting tomorrow, will, in the fine tradition of Folkestone & Hythe District Council, be heard behind closed doors, even though the report cost the ratepayer £8,640, according to February’s payment to supplier data. The fact this meeting is at the present time to be heard behind closed doors, goes against all leading judicial judgments, such as Hussain v Sandwell, Dennehy v London Borough of Ealing, R (Calver) v The Adjudication Panel for Wales.
As Justice Green says in Hussain v Sandwell [Para 237 (c)]:
There was a strong public interest in the rate payers of the borough having explained to them the nature of the allegations, the evidence both for and against the Claimant, and the views of independent lawyers. It was fair to publish because it proved to the public that the officers were taking their responsibilities seriously and not concealing possible wrongdoing, which was the prevailing impression. Public confidence in… transparency… is very important.
However, regardless of what Justice Green has said and ruled on, our Council are refusing the public the right of access to the report and the allegations, plus ignoring the law [quelle surprise].
Let’s not forget, at this moment in time, four district Shepway Green Party Cllrs are under active investigation by Historic England. If found wanting by them, any investigation by our Council, for bringing their office into disrepute, will not have them quaking in their boots as the Council are impotent to remove the said Cllrs from office.
So, for those who are standing for election; and for those of you who get elected on May 6th, have no fear, even if you bring your office into disrepute during your term of office. The toothless Localism Act, introduced by the Tories and Lib Dems, means you have a get out of jail card free, and you can keep your allowance – if your receive one – until your term of office ends.
Drinks all round.
The Shepway Vox Team
Dissent is NOT a Crime