Carl Sargeant's first answer suggests that he was briefed on the background to the case, although as you can see for yourselves, his approach could be described as extremely cautious at best.
Members of the public, and I would hope the press as well, should be very concerned by this latest attempt to curb free speech in Carmarthenshire (the press will be aware that this council has form).
Perhaps we should all let Mr Sargeant know what we think by writing to him to make sure that he is under no illusion about what people think of this potentially colossal waste of money in an attempt to undermine one of the most basic cornerstones of our democracy.
This case also matters to people who do not live in Carmarthenshire. Wales and England form a single legal jurisdiction, and you can be sure that wherever you live, councils will be watching this case very closely.
The minister's e-mail address is: Carl.Sargeant@wales.gov.uk
Rhodri Glyn Thomas: Minister, I have given you notice of this question because I believe that it is important. While we all accept that local councils must have the right to ensure that staff do not face court cases and have to go to court and use their own resources to defend themselves when it is a matter appertaining to the council, is there scope for local authorities to be extremely cautious as regards how this is applied? Could they refrain from funding cases where local authority officers bring cases against the public?
Carl Sargeant: I thank the Member for giving me notice of the question. As he is aware, local authorities have the power to indemnify members and officers under regulations made in 2006. The rationale was to protect members and officers from undue personal risk when acting in good faith in the course of their duties. I would add a caveat, though; the Member may be interested to hear that, although case law suggests that this is lawful, it is a matter for the local council as to whether it is justified.
|Rhodri Glyn Thomas: Thank you very much for that reply. I accept your point that it is a matter for the individual local authority to determine what is appropriate in this matter. However, I am sure that you would share my concern that local authorities should not use this ability to such an extent that individuals are afraid of making statements about decisions taken by local authorities in case they find themselves in court facing a local authority officer who is backed and financially supported by an authority.|
|Carl Sargeant: I would hate to think that members of the public feel that they are not able to challenge the might of Government, or local government in this case. If the Member has any specific details that he wishes to raise with me, I would be more than happy to respond accordingly.|