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Kangaroo crossingCouncillor M. Undisgraced
The Kangaroo Court discommoded

The Court of Appeal gets some of the job done

Cllr. M. UnDisgracedCouncillor M., an Independent member of Macclesfield Borough Council, was suspended from membership of the council for one year in June 2004 on the orders of a Standards Board for England tribunal. He had been convicted of speaking at a council meeting on a matter which was likely to affect his wellbeing.
   Cllr. M was 'shopped' to the local government ombudsman and then to the Standards Board as tactics in a long-running political vendetta waged by former Macclesfield Borough Council leader Cllr. X., who abandoned his seat shortly before the 2004 council elections and shortly before he faced assault charges in court.
   Both 'investigations' showed up severe deficiencies in the respective processes – mainly a tendency for the 'investigators' to draw conclusions based on personal prejudice rather than the evidence and a tendency to make arbitrary decisions in the absence of evidence.

Issues of wellbeing are usually about a councillor taking financial advantage or doing something which enhances his/her status. This case was unusual in that no such considerations were involved. As far as Cllr. M. was concerned, he was merely exercising his human right to speak in his own defence against criticism, and he had nothing to gain in the way of financial reward or position in the council or the community.

Mr Justice Keith, mindful of the fact that Cllr. M. had received "conflicting and confusing" advice from senior council officers (who were allies of Cllr. X.) quashed his banishment when the matter eventually reached the High Court in October, 2004. Cllr. M. is now free to resume his duties at Macclesfield Town Hall when the officers stop dragging their feet over re-connecting him to the council's information systems.
   The judge, mindful of what the chaps at the Lord Chancellor's office would think of him, ducked the human rights issue to avoid having to rule that the Standards Board has been in breach of European Union legislation since Day One. He opted instead for a neutral decision which allowed Cllr. M. to resume his role at Macclesfield council and the Standards Board to continue to dispense its arbitrary brand of 'justice'.
   During the High Court hearing, Cllr. M. branded the Standard Board’s findings disproportionate, wrong in law and a violation of his human right to free speech. Further, the judge said that the Standards Board had not have given "sufficient weight to the unusual features of the case, namely that Cllr. M. interest was known to everyone, or the conflicting and confusing advice he received."

Both Labour and Lib-Dem members of Macclesfield council welcomed Cllr. M.'s return. Cllr. Carter, the Labour leader, said: "He has been very badly treated by the local Conservatives. This whole affair was simply a political vendetta, masquerading as an issue of standards in public office." He added that he considered Cllr. M. "an honourable man who was valued by the people of Macclesfield".
   Cllr. Bradley of the Lib-Dem Group said: "I am glad to see him back and his suspension reduced. The new regime we are now working within should allow him to make a positive contribution."
   The Tory Group had no comment to make.

Macclesfield council officer Vivienne Horton, who was on holiday when Cllr. M. received the "conflicting and confusing advice" advice from her stand-in and the council's former chief executive and Cllr. X. ally David Parr, took no responsibility for their actions.

Councillor M. has pointed out that the judge’s comments have shown up flaws in the system of advice for members in Macclesfield. As a consequence, other members must be concerned about the advice given to them.
   He added: "Since this case, I have been contacted by councillors from all around the country and many of them are concerned that officers are using codes of conduct to crush councillors and run town halls free of interference from elected members."
   While he did not believe that this was what had happened at in his case, he was concerned about "young, ambitious senior officers who were looking for major projects to enhance their career prospects".

As final comments on his long search for justice, he said: "This saga has cost a lot of money for me personally – and for the taxpayer. But I am still not sure what crime the government was trying to stop and who was supposed to be the villain. My case may be relatively unimportant but once government starts to restrict free political debate it is stepping onto a slippery political slope."

Kangaroo crossing

For a wealth of background to this item, see the "Mischief" and "Ombudsman's Report" items in our first archive and the items "Kangaroo Court" and "Kangaroo II".

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