Patrick Heesom v The Public Services Ombudsman for Wales The Welsh Ministers (Interveners)

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
CourtQueen's Bench Division (Administrative Court)
JudgeMr Justice Hickinbottom
Judgment Date15 May 2014
Neutral Citation[2014] EWHC 1504 (Admin)
Docket NumberCase No: CO/10947/2013

[2014] EWHC 1504 (Admin)

IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE

QUEEN'S BENCH DIVISION

ADMINISTRATIVE COURT IN WALES

ON APPEAL FROM THE ADJUDICATION PANEL FOR WALES

The Law Courts

The Civic Centre

Mold

Flintshire

Before:

Mr Justice Hickinbottom

Case No: CO/10947/2013

Between:
Patrick Heesom
Appellant
and
The Public Services Ombudsman for Wales
Respondent

and

The Welsh Ministers
Interveners

Mark Henderson and David Lemer (instructed by Howe & Co) for the Appellant

James Maurici QC and Gwydion Hughes (instructed by Katrin Shaw, Legal Adviser, The Public Service Ombudsman for Wales) for the Respondent

Gwion Lewis (instructed by the Treasury Solicitor) for the Interveners (written submissions only)

Hearing dates: 1–4 April 2014

I direct that pursuant to CPR PD 39A para 6.1 no official shorthand note shall be taken of this Judgment and that copies of this version as handed down may be treated as authentic.

Mr Justice Hickinbottom Mr Justice Hickinbottom

Introduction

1

The Appellant is 76 years of age, and is a long-standing local councillor.

2

He was first elected as a member of Clwyd County Council in 1990, and, on the introduction of unitary authorities in Wales, he was elected to Flintshire County Council as Independent member for the Mostyn ward in 1996, being re-elected in 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012. After the 2004 elections, he became leader of the Independents, the main opposition group on the Council. In the 2008 elections, the Independents became the largest group on the Council, and the Appellant became the leader of the Council in waiting. However, he was put under investigation for election irregularities – during which he was in due course cleared of any impropriety – and it was decided that another Independent member (Councillor Arnold Woolley) should take on the leadership of the Council, which he did. The Appellant remained leader of the Independents, and was appointed Executive Member for Housing Strategy. The Independent group lost control of the Council in the 2012 elections.

3

On 12 March 2009, a complaint about the Appellant's conduct was submitted to the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales ("the Ombudsman") by all of the Council's Corporate Management Team, which was made up of the Council's Senior Officers. As a result of the complaint, he stood down from the Executive, but continued serving as a councillor.

4

The Ombudsman published his final report on the complaint on 22 July 2010. The report ran to 232 pages and appendices. In it, the Ombudsman found that there was evidence of breach of the Council's Codes of Conduct serious enough to warrant reference to the President of the Adjudication Panel for Wales for adjudication by a case tribunal, and the matter was referred.

5

The proceedings before the case tribunal were lengthy, partly as a result of the Appellant's ill health – he was diagnosed by a psychitratist appointed by the tribunal to be suffering from clinical depression, and thus unfit to give evidence – which caused a 12 month adjournment from September 2011. The tribunal published their decision in 2013, after hearing 48 witnesses over 58 days of hearings and consideration of 7000 pages of evidence. Their decision was made in three parts. On 25 June 2013, they published their Findings of Fact, a document of over 400 pages. On 19 July they made, and on 6 August 2013 published, their Breach Decision and Sanction Decision in separate documents. In these, the tribunal found that the Appellant had committed 14 breaches of the Council's Codes of Conduct by failing to show respect and consideration for Council officers, using bullying behaviour, attempting to compromise the impartiality of officers and conducting himself in a manner likely to bring his office or the Council into disrepute. In terms of sanction, the tribunal disqualified the Appellant from being a member of the Council or of any other local authority for 2 years 6 months.

6

In this statutory appeal, the Appellant challenges the tribunal's decision on three grounds, namely:

i) The case tribunal erred in adopting the wrong standard of proof, i.e. the civil as opposed to the criminal standard.

ii) The case tribunal erred in its findings as to breaches of the Codes of Conduct.

iii) Insofar as its findings of breach were properly made, the case tribunal erred in finding that they were such as to justify the sanction imposed.

7

The appeal thus gives rise to the following important issues:

i) The appropriate standard of proof in an adjudication by a case tribunal of the Adjudication Panel for Wales.

ii) The scope of and legitimate restrictions to a politician's right of freedom of expression under article 10 of the European Convention for on Human Rights ("the ECHR") and at common law, particularly in relation to civil servants' rights and interests which might be adversely affected by the purported exercise of those rights.

8

Supperstone J granted permission to appeal on 15 November 2013. On 19 December 2013, I ordered expedition because, as a result of the case tribunal decision and this appeal, not only can the Appellant not act as a councillor, but the Mostyn ward is currently without representation since no by-election can be held until this appeal is determined.

9

On 6 February 2014, on their application, I granted the Welsh Ministers permission to intervene in writing, because of the potential systemic impact of some of the issues on the adjudication scheme in Wales as a whole.

10

At the hearing, Mark Henderson and David Lemer appeared for the Appellant, and James Maurici QC and Gwydion Hughes for the Ombudsman. The Welsh Ministers did not appear at the hearing, but the written submissions of Gwion Lewis of Counsel on their behalf were of considerable assistance, particularly in respect of the statutory scheme in Wales (to which the section below on the legal framework owes much). At the outset, I thank them all for their industry and assistance.

The Legal Framework in Wales

11

The Third Report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life (Cm 3702) (July 1997) recommended a new system to promote and uphold proper standards in public life. The framework created by Part III of the Local Government Act 2000 ("the 2000 Act") was intended to implement this recommendation. Chapter I of Part III (sections 49–56) applied to England and Wales; Chapter II to England alone (sections 57–67) and Chapter III to Wales alone (sections 68–74).

12

These provisions supplemented section 80 of the Local Government Act 1972 ("the 1972 Act"), still in force in both Wales and England, which disqualifies a person from being elected to or from being a member of a local authority if (i) he is, subject to various exceptions, in the paid employment of the authority (section 80(1)(a)), or (ii) convicted of any offence and sentenced to imprisonment for at least three months within five years of his election or after that election (section 80(1)(d)).

13

The 2000 Act enabled the relevant national authority to specify, by Order, "general principles" which were to govern the conduct of members of relevant authorities (which include local authorities) (section 49); and to issue a "model code" in respect of the conduct expected of such members (section 50). It also required each authority to set up a standards committee in accordance with provisions to be made by the relevant national authority, to promote and maintain high standards of conduct by members and to assist members to observe the authority's code of conduct (section 53).

14

The relevant national authority for England is the Secretary of State. I will return to the current position in England in due course (see paragraphs 25–30 below). Local government and public administration were substantially devolved to Wales by the Government of Wales Act 1998, and are now more fully devolved under Schedule 7 of the Government of Wales Act 2006. For Wales, the relevant national authority was the National Assembly, until the relevant powers were transferred to the Welsh Ministers by paragraph 30 of Schedule 11 to the Government of Wales Act 2006.

15

The Conduct of Members (Principles) (Wales) Order 2001 (SI 2001 No 2276), made under section 49 of the 2000 Act, identifies ten principles which govern the conduct of local authority members in Wales, namely selflessness, honesty, integrity and propriety, duty to uphold the law, stewardship, objectivity in decision-making, equality and respect, openness, accountability, and leadership (article 3). Each principle is further defined in the Schedule to the Order. For example, in relation to "Equality and Respect", paragraph 7 of the Schedule states:

"Members must carry out their duties and responsibilities with due regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity for all people, regardless of their gender, race, disability, sexual orientation, age or religion, and show respect and consideration for others."

16

The current model Code of Conduct, issued by the Welsh Ministers under section 50 of the 2000 Act, is found in the Schedule to the Local Authorities (Model Code of Conduct) (Wales) Order 2008 (SI 2008 No 788). It replaced the model in the Conduct of Members (Model Code of Conduct) (Wales) Order 2001 (SI 2001 No 2289).

17

Section 51 of the 2000 Act requires local authorities in Wales to adopt the model code in its entirety, only making additions that are consistent with it. Section 52 requires every member of an authority to give, within two months of the code being adopted, a written undertaking that he will observe its provisions, in default of which he would cease to be a member.

18

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