Friday, 8 February 2013

Caebrwyn's Trial

Next Wednesday, 13 February, will see the start of the trial involving fellow blogger Jacqui Thompson and the Chief Executive of Carmarthenshire County Council. It will take place at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, and will be heard by a judge without a jury, as is common practice these days.

As a brief reminder, the dispute dates back to the publication of a letter written by the Chief Executive to the Mad Axeman blog in which Mr James launched a highly personal attack on both Jacqui Thompson and her family. Bearing in mind that Jacqui's children have played no part in Jacqui's campaign for greater openness and transparency by the council, that was a reckless and foolish thing to have done, and unsurprisingly the legal advice received by Jacqui was that she had grounds to seek legal redress.

The whole matter could have been ended at that point in late 2011 with an apology and a settlement. Instead the Chief Executive countered with an action for defamation against Jacqui, funded by council tax payers. The council did so using powers that it had granted itself, claiming that these were "extraordinary circumstances" but without ever explaining what was so extraordinary about them.

This was an extremely unusual thing for a local authority to do, and Carmarthenshire appears to be determined to test the limits of the law where the consensus has hitherto been that government cannot sue for libel.

A victory for Mr James could have enormous consequences for the press, blogs and other media as it would open the way for any council or other branch of government to sue critics by proxy.


Whatever happens, the Welsh Government needs to act to tighten up the rules for council officers and councillors to prevent public funds from being used for pursuing (as opposed to defending) claims for defamation. If a council officer or councillor feels that they have been libelled, they would still have the same right to bring an action privately, just like everybody else.

It is sometimes argued that council officers are like the royals in that they cannot answer back and defend themselves against criticism.

Anyone who is familiar with Carmarthenshire will know that that principle has been turned on its head. Councillors who are criticised, no matter how unfairly, by the Chief Executive in public meetings have no right of reply. And members of the public who have been attacked by the Chief Executive and the council's PR machine in the press have found that the control of editorial policy exercised by County Hall in the case of some of our local papers means that they have no right of reply either.

As a result of all of this significant sums of public money have been squandered, and a threat to freedom of expression remains.

For Jacqui personally this is an extremely stressful experience, and I am sure that most of you will join me in wishing her success in what is a just cause.





16 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hear hear - blooming well said ! best of luck to her. It seems absolutely bloody ridiculous that it has come to this.!!

towy71 said...

That it has come to this is a scandal, the council's craven attitude disgusts me. I wish Jacqui luck!

Anonymous said...

I don't understand how it can be stressful Mrs Thomson is the one fireing shots all the time.

Why does she not move elsewhere, It just seems she hates everything and everyone. If you dont like it lump it.

Cneifiwr said...

Anon @1.08 Jacqui Thompson has lived in the county for a long time and has put down deep roots here. She does not hate everything and everyone, and has helped expose a good many of the council's failings towards the people of the county. We can be glad to have people like that.

Patricia B. said...

Anon@1.08

If the local press kept a watchful eye on the highly dubious practices of this authority, and weren't so intimidated by them, then bloggers such as Jacqui Thompson could focus their fact finding missions elsewhere. Blame the authority itself for it's bad press, and it's leader, for the well deserved criticism, not the bloggers. They are simply reporting facts. Bloggers are a much needed source of information, and are giving a vital service to the taxpaying residents of this county. They are the only voice we have. I for one am eternally grateful that they are there as one who has been at the receiving end of smears and innuendo, without any foundation,from this despotic regime. As for an apology from Mark James 'sorry' is not in his vocabulary. Jacqui was simply defending her and her family's good name, which was her right. I wish her well, as I'm sure do most of her readers.

Sliverback said...

Good Luck Jacqui, all the best!!!

Anonymous said...

MRS THOMPSON is a typical incomer , everything we Welsh do is wrong and Mam Sahab knows best . Perhaps CCC have been a bit ham-fisted in its dealings but I suspect the MamSahab likes being the centre of attention and does she not have a grudge against CCC for turning down her Planning - Ask for a FOI on that

Cneifiwr said...

Anon @ 19.41 - That is so far off the mark that it's actually quite funny. I can't think of anyone less like a memsahib or the stereotypical incomer.

Plaid Whitegate said...

Best of luck to Jacqui - incredible that the anonymous Labour trolls are still trying to slander her.

Patricia B. said...

Anon@19.41

Sounds very much a croney of this rotten borough. (see Private Eye)

If you wish to be a critic of Jacqui Thompson, don't be a coward and hide behind Anonymous, be courageous, and put your name to your mis-informed comment.

Anonymous said...

Hear, hear Patricia B. Best wishes Jacqui, I am sure common sense and justice will prevail!

Tessa said...

An excellent summary of this outrageous situation. Good luck Jacqui!

madaxeman said...

Can't say too much obviously with the case before the courts, but I hope all this comes to quick, sudden, and just conclusion.

Madaxeman.

Anonymous said...

our best wishes jacqui

Gaynor Jones said...

what is best an incomer who challenges the rotten status quo or should we welsh kowtow to ineffective and downright incompetent councillors and county council officials cos ... they're welsh? Sorry mate really stupid generalisation there, i would say.

Anonymous said...

Regardless of whether she's an incomer or not, she's someone who deeply cares when the rest of the population born and bred here who don't give a monkey about local issues concerning a ridiculous local authority riddled with bureaucracy and a large ego. CCC conduct themselves very much like some totalitarian state, squashing the local press for any bad press and giving themselves powers that help to fill their all ready stuffed coffers. I sincerely hope she wins and proves that the 'small' men and donkeys who run this local authority get the coming they deserve!

Dalier ati Cneifiwr!