#daftarrest – Blogger’s legal fight shines light on council transparency

This, from C4, gives a pretty fair summing up of the issues involved in the #daftarrest libel trial which concluded last week:

Blogger’s legal fight shines light on council transparency

She was arrested for filming a council meeting – the situation escalated and now she’s in a high court libel trial. But citizen journalist Jacqui Thompson says she will still fight for transparency.

It’s a David and Goliath case which lays bare the challenges – and, some would say, the importance – of citizen journalism.

LLandwrda resident Jacqui Thompson is a blogger who writes about her local authority, Carmarthenshire County Council. She says she just wants to raise awareness of what’s happening in local government – but she has been locked in a legal struggle with the council authorities over her work for much of the last 18 months.

Back in 2011, Mrs Thompson was ejected from a council meeting and arrested when she refused to stop filming for a report on her blog. She says there is nothing in the council rules which indicates that she cannot film – but the council disagreed. Read on…….

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The Code of Conduct – Observed more in the breach?

Reproduced below is the RMBC Code of Conduct for Members and Co-Opted Members. This can be downloaded here as a pdf file, for future reference, or to print your own copy:

General Provisions
Introduction and interpretation
1. (1) This Code applies to you as a member of Rotherham Borough Council (“the Council”).
(2) It is your responsibility to comply with the provisions of this Code and uphold the seven principles of public life set out in Annex 1 to this Code.
(3) In this Code –
A “meeting of the Council” means any meeting of –
(a) the Council;
(b) the Cabinet, a committee of the Cabinet or a member of the Cabinet acting under delegated powers;
(c) the Council’s committees, sub-committees, joint committees, joint sub-committees, or area committees.
A “member” includes a co-opted member who is entitled to vote on any question that falls to be decided at any meeting that falls within paragraphs (a) – (c) above.
2. (1) Except when you are acting as a representative of the Council when sub-paragraph (2) applies, you must comply with this Code whenever you –
(a) conduct the business of the Council (which, in this Code, includes the business of the office to which you are elected or appointed); or
(b) act, claim to act or give the impression you are acting as a representative of the Council.
Where you act as a representative of the Council –
on any of the authorities which are under a duty to have a similar code of conduct to this Code, you must comply with that authority’s code of conduct when acting for that authority;
(b) on any organisation or body that is not obliged to have a code of conduct, you must comply with this Code except to the extent that this Code conflicts with any other lawful obligations to which that other organisation or body may be subject.
General obligations
3. (1) You must treat others with respect.
(2) You must not –
(a) do anything which may cause the Council to breach any of the equality duties;
(b) bully any person;
(c) do anything which compromises or is likely to compromise the impartiality of those who work for, or on behalf of, the Council.
4. You must not –
(a) disclose information given to you in confidence by anyone, or information acquired by you which you believe, or ought reasonably to be aware, is of a confidential nature, except where –
(i) you have the consent of a person authorised to give it;
(ii) you are required by law to do so;
(iii) the disclosure is made to a third party for the purpose of obtaining professional advice provided that the third party agrees not to disclose the information to any other person; or
the disclosure is –
(aa) reasonable and in the public interest; and
(bb) made in good faith and in compliance with the reasonable requirements of the Council; or
(b) prevent another person from gaining access to information to which that person is entitled by law.
5. You must not conduct yourself in a manner which could reasonably be regarded as bringing your office or the Council into disrepute.
6. You –
(a) must not use or attempt to use your position as a member improperly to confer on or secure for yourself, or any other person, an advantage or disadvantage; and
(b) must, when using or authorising the use by others of the resources of the Council –
(i) act in accordance with the Council’s reasonable requirements;
(ii) ensure that such resources are not used improperly for political purposes (including party political purposes); and
(c) must have regard to any applicable Local Authority Code of Publicity made under the Local Government Act 1986.
7. (1) When reaching decisions on any matter you must have regard to any relevant advice provided to you by the Council’s –
(a) chief finance officer (the Strategic Director of Resources); or
(b) monitoring officer (the Director of Legal and Democratic Services),
where that officer is acting pursuant to his or her statutory duties.
(2) You must give reasons for all decisions in accordance with any statutory requirements and any reasonable additional requirements imposed by the Council.
Personal interests
8. You have a personal interest in any business of the Council where either it relates to or is likely to affect –
(i) any body of which you are a member or in a position of general control or management and to which you are appointed or nominated by the Council;
(ii) any body –
(aa) exercising functions of a public nature;
(bb) directed to charitable purposes;
(cc) one of whose principal purposes includes the influence of public opinion or policy (including any political party or trade union); or
(dd) which is a private club or society, such as the Freemasons, a recreational club, working men’s club or private investment club,
of which you are a member or in a position of general control or management;
the interests of any person from whom you have received a gift or hospitality with an estimated value of at least £25; or
a decision in relation to that business might reasonably be regarded as affecting the well-being or financial position of you or a member of your family or a close friend or someone with whom you have a close association to a greater extent than it would affect the majority of other council tax payers, ratepayers or inhabitants of your ward or electoral area.
Disclosable pecuniary interests
9 (1) You have a “disclosable pecuniary interest” in any business of the Council where it is a pecuniary interest of yours or a pecuniary interest of –
(a) your spouse or civil partner,
(b) a person with whom you are living as if husband and wife, or
(c) a person with whom you are living as if you are civil partners
and you are aware that that other person has the interest and the interest falls within the categories of pecuniary interests classed as disclosable pecuniary interests in regulations made by the Secretary of State from time to time under section 30 (3) of the Localism Act 2011.
The current disclosable pecuniary interests are listed in Annex 2 to this Code.
Notification of interests
10. You must notify the Council’s monitoring officer of any interest that is classed as a personal interest or a disclosable pecuniary interest –
(a) within 28 days of becoming a member or co-opted member of the Council;
(b) within 28 days of acquiring any interest or becoming aware of any such interest;
(c) within 28 days of any change to an interest that you have previously registered; or
(d) within 28 days of disclosing an interest at a meeting of the Council
Disclosure of interests
11. (1) Where you have a personal interest in any business of the Council and you attend a meeting of the Council at which the business is considered, you need only disclose the existence and nature of that interest to the meeting if –
(a) the interest is not already entered in your register of interests; or
(b) the interest is not one that you have already notified to the monitoring officer.
(2) Where you have a disclosable pecuniary interest in any business of the Council and you attend a meeting of the Council at which the business is considered, unless the interest is a sensitive interest (see sub-paragraph (3)), you must disclose the existence and nature of that interest and, unless you have been granted a dispensation (see sub-
paragraph (4)), you must not take part in the discussion or vote on that item and must withdraw from the meeting room, including the public gallery, before the item is considered by the meeting.
(3) You need not disclose the nature of any personal interest or disclosable pecuniary interest in an item of business where the Council’s monitoring officer considers that disclosure of the details of the interest (“a sensitive interest”) could lead to you or a person connected with you being subject to violence or intimidation.
(4) Sub-paragraph (2), does not apply where the monitoring officer or the Standards Committee, as the case may be, has granted a dispensation to enable you to take part in the discussion of, or vote on that item, or both.
12 You commit an offence if without reasonable excuse –
(a) you fail to notify the monitoring officer within 28 days of becoming a member of the Council of any disclosable personal interests that you have;
(b) you fail to disclose at a meeting of the Council the nature and extent of a disclosable pecuniary interest that you have, and are aware of having, in an item of business that is being considered at the meeting, unless –
(i) the interest is a sensitive interest and paragraph 11 (3) applies;
(ii) the interest is entered in the Register of Members’ Interests maintained by the monitoring officer; or
(iii) the monitoring officer has been notified that you have such an interest but the register has not yet been updated (“a pending notification”);
(c) you fail to notify the monitoring officer of a disclosable pecuniary interest that you have disclosed at a meeting of the Council, or where you are a member of the Cabinet at your delegated powers meeting, as the case may be, within 28 days of the date on which you made the disclosure;
(d) you participate in any discussion of, or vote on, any item of business at a meeting of the Council in which you have a disclosable pecuniary interest of which you are aware, unless you have been granted a dispensation in accordance with paragraph 11 (4), or
(e) you have a disclosable pecuniary interest of which you are aware in any item of business to be dealt with, or being dealt with, by you as a member of the Cabinet acting under delegated powers and despite having that interest continue to deal with that item of business, except where such dealing is for the purpose of arranging for the item to be dealt with otherwise than by you.
The Seven Principles of Public Life
1. Holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest. They should not do so in order to gain financial or other benefits for themselves, their family or their friends.
Holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might seek to influence them in the performance of their official duties.
In carrying out public business, including making public appointments, awarding contracts, or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits, holders of public office should make choices on merit.
4. Holders of public office are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office.
5. Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions that they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands.
6. Holders of public office have a duty to declare any private interests relating to their public duties and to take steps to resolve any conflicts arising in a way that protects the public interest.
7. Holders of public office should promote and support these principles by leadership and example.
In accordance with Section 30(3) of the Localism Act 2011 a pecuniary interest is a “disclosable pecuniary interest” in relation to a member, if it is of a description specified below and either

is an interest of the member, or

is an interest of:-
the member’s spouse or civil partner
a person with whom the member is living as husband and wife, or
a person with whom the member is living as if they were civil partners,
and the member is aware that the other person has the interest.
However it should be noted that the disclosure of sponsorship is only in relation to the sponsorship of the member and not in relation to a spouse or civil partner.
In the Table below –
“body in which you have a beneficial interest” means a firm in which the relevant person is a partner or a body corporate of which the relevant person is a director, or in the securities of which the relevant person has a beneficial interest;
“director” includes a member of the committee of management of an industrial and provident society;
“land” excludes an easement, servitude, interest or right in or over land which does not carry with it a right for the relevant person (alone or jointly with another) to occupy the land or to receive income;
“relevant period” means the period of 12 months ending with the day on which M gives notification of a disclosable pecuniary interest;
“relevant person” means you (as a member) or your spouse or civil partner; a person with whom you are living as husband and wife; or a person with whom you are living as if you were civil partners;
“securities” means shares, debentures, debenture stock, loan stock, bonds, units of a collective investment scheme within the meaning of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 and other securities of any description, other than money deposited with a building society.
Prescribed description
Employment, office, trade, profession or vocation
Any employment, office, trade, profession or vocation carried on for profit or gain
Any payment or provision of any other financial benefit (other than from the Council) made or provided within the relevant period in respect of any expenses incurred by the member in carrying out duties as a member, or towards the election expenses of the member. This includes any payment or financial benefit from a trade union within the meaning of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992(a).
Any contract which is made between the relevant person (or a body in which the relevant person has a beneficial interest) and the relevant Council –
(a) under which goods or services are to be provided or works are to be executed; and
(b) which has not been fully discharged.
Any beneficial interest in land which is within the area of the relevant Council.
Any licence (alone or jointly with others) to occupy land in the area of the Council for a month or longer
Corporate tenancies
Any tenancy where (to the member’s knowledge) –
(a) the landlord is the Council; and
(b) the tenant is a body in which the relevant person has a beneficial interest
Any beneficial interest in securities of a body where—(a) that body (to the member’s knowledge) has a place of business or land in the area of the Council; and (b) either— (i) the total nominal value of the securities exceeds £25,000 or one hundredth of the total issued share capital of that body; or
(ii) if the share capital of that body is of more than one class, the total nominal value of the shares of any one class in which the relevant person has a beneficial interest exceeds one hundredth of the total issued share capital of that class.


A little light reading

Just last week, as the #daftarrest case concerning a citizen who has been subjected to the most outrageous intimidation including the litigation she has been forced to endure, came to an end, Eric Pickles reissued the following two documents:

Town hall doors unlocked to social media and bloggers

Citizen journalists and bloggers should be let in to public council meetings

Letter from Bob Neill to local authority leaders: access to meetings pdf

Trying to tell the Judge something? At the same time local councils? I do hope so.

I imagine, the same rules apply to parish council meetings!

Anston Parish Council – Meeting Monday 25th February

Rotherham Politics has just learned that Michael Gazur has summoned the parish council to a meeting on Monday 25 February at 7pm in the parish hall!

Democracy in action? An experience not to be missed by the locals.

New to this story? Comedy Club? Farce certainly! and Rotherham’s Comedy Club, provide essential reading and hours of amusement.

Lord Conyers Planning Appeal

Couldn’t resist bringing readers up to date on this one:

From: Anne Jarvis
To: Dave.Pickering
Sent: Wed, 20 Feb 2013 10:18
Subject: lord conyers planning appeal

Dear Sir

I am in receipt of your reply (undated) to my email of 3rd January 2013 regarding the Planning Inspectorate Appeal Hearing. I was fully aware of the history of the application, and although dis-satisfied with the outcome my concerns were more to do with the actions or in-actions of RMBC.

You state in your reply that ‘The officer recommendation to Board was that the demolition of the building was acceptable in this instance as it had been proved that it was not economically viable to retain or convert the building.’

Yet the very same Officer recommending demolition had on the 29th Nov 2011 stated in his role as Conservation Officer that ‘the building represents a significant heritage aspect for the Wales Conservation Area as part of a link to its past’
See attachment *peckjpg (1.4MB) Below.

Since when has it been the duty of RMBC to ensure a developer who has overpaid for a building ‘turns a profit’? There would appear to be a ‘conflict of interest’ in the Officer holding two roles within the Planning Department.

You state that English Heritage have responsibility for the listing of buildings. The Borough Council can ask them to consider listing and given the Conservation Officer’s report of Nov 2011, I would have thought that this would have been a logical step for the Borough Council to have taken.

If the Borough Council had pursued the retention of The Lord Conyer’s Arms as being an integral part of the Wales Conservation Area and refused demolition under the Conservation status, the planning application would not have had any chance of succeeding.

The Inspector states ;
‘The Council refused the applications for conservation area consent and
planning permission, which are the subject of these appeals, for a single reason
relating to the provision of inadequate information with the applications to
justify the demolition of the existing building’

You say ‘you are satisfied that the Officer representing the Council substantiated the reason for refusal’

How you are able to make that assertion when the planning department have failed to promote the Conservation of Wales  Square and after writing a report for retention they then fail to take action to ‘conserve’ at which point the proposed planning application for houses would have been academic.

the Inspector further states;

Members (Refs. RB2012/0852 and RB2012/0851), no additional expert advice
was sought. Hence the refusals relate to generalised concerns, unsupported by
substantial evidence either in writing or other form, with no detailed objective

I am at a loss as to how this equates with your statement :’The Planning Officer who represented the Council at this Hearing is a qualified and experienced officer, who is the lead officer in the Council for Conservation matters, and I therefore cannot accept your criticism in relation to the representation at the appeal’.

It would appear to the layman that there is implicit criticism in the Inspector’s statement and that your ‘qualified and experienced officer’ did little to support members decision.

Under the heading VENUE of your reply you state;

In this particular case the Planning Inspectorates admin team did request that the Hearing be held at Riverside House, although the Council could have requested that it be held an alternative venue. I have asked that in the future the Council gives consideration to the suitability of other venues closer to the application site.

I wrote to the Inspectorate quoting your reply to me and asked for clarification of your assertions. Find attached  (2179568 reply to Mrs J) a letter from the Inspectorate in total contradiction of your reply. Indeed had the Inspectorate requested the venue be at Riverside House they would have been contravening their own guidance. P.I. Advise & Equality Act 2010. Guidance which RMBC chose to ignore. Wales has a perfectly adequate village hall with all facilities required by the public and the inspectorate within 1/4 of a mile of the subject of the appeal.

It would seem to me that someone is adept in the art of lying.

The Officer’s and member’s of the Planning department and committee have failed in their duty to protect our local heritage. For what reason can only be left to the imagination!
I wonder just how much of Rotherham’s heritage you are willing to sacrifice in the pursuit of profit, either yours or the developers who you seem to favour over local heritage, Herringthorpe playing field and Stubbin Lane are they next on RMBC’s hit list?

Yours faithfully

Anne Jarvis