Councillor M. Undisgraced
The Court of Appeal gets some of the job done
Councillor 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.
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.
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".
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.
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."
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".