The Government has finally issued its proposals on changes to the local authority Councillors’ Code of Conduct. This comes hard on the heels of the High Court appeal by London Mayor Ken Livingstone against a four week suspension for allegedly bringing his office into disrepute by being offensive to a journalist outside a party. He won his appeal and amongst other changes to the standards regime, the Government proposes to change the law such that councillors will only be subject to the standards regime outside of their official functions where they have been convicted of a criminal offence. This is a controversial issue as some would say that this was out of line with other professionals who are broadly subject to regulation whether or not they are performing their professional functions.
Another important change is with regard to the disclosure of confidential information. As an Adjudication Panel case held last year, the Human Rights Act 1998 requires councillors to have a public interest defence and the Code is to be changed to reflect this. There will be interesting times ahead as Councillors weigh up whether the public interest requires them to make public confidential information!
A useful change will be the introduction of so-called “public service interests”. This means that Councillors who sit on a variety of public authorities do not on every occasion have to declare their interests. In addition, members who are involved with particular lobby groups may be able to speak although not vote on their pet subjects. This is a freeing up of the regime which is generally thought to be a good idea.
Finally, as a recognition of the difficulties that can sometimes arise in member/officer relationships, a specific offence of bullying is being created. Melanie Carter, who is our head of the Public Law and worked on the Lincolnshire County Council public interest report, welcomed this change and the emphasis this would give to this important issue.
As specialists in this area we are currently offering a variety of services:
- Training on Code changes and local determination hearings for officers and Standard Committee members
- Conduct of investigations (where the MO is conflicted out)
- Advice to the panel of the Standards Committee hearing a case