Monday 6 February 2012

Poll - Is Carmarthenshire right to use taxpayers' money to fund a libel case?

On the right hand side of this blog is a simple poll asking readers to vote on the question of whether Carmarthenshire County Council is right to fund an action for libel brought by its chief executive, Mark James, against Jacqui Thompson, author of a well-known blog called Carmarthenplanning.

In agreeing to fund both the chief executive's defence against a claim brought by Jacqui and a counter-claim brought by Mr James, the Executive Board of the council has signed a blank cheque to pick up costs which could well run into six figures.

But this case is about much more than the use or misuse of public money. It is very rare for local authorities to act in this way, and there is a long-standing convention that organs of government may not bring actions for defamation because the freedom of speech which we enjoy as citizens would very quickly perish if individuals and the press could be taken to court every time something was said or written to which government, councils or other public bodies took exception.

In the case of councils such as Carmarthenshire, the system of cabinet government, with very extensive delegation of powers to non-elected officers, is making it increasingly difficult to distinguish between the role of senior officers and the council itself.

You can see this for yourselves if you go to a meeting of the full council, where the chief executive almost invariably dominates the proceedings, intervening on just about any given subject and getting more "air time" than any of the councillors.

The truth is that in councils like Carmarthenshire, every decision of any importance, and a great many of lesser importance, will involve the chief executive. Nothing much happens or moves without his approval.

There are two distinct issues in this case. First, we have the question of the funding being given to enable the chief executive to pursue a local woman through the courts. You can find more background on this both on this blog, here, and on Inside Out, another local blog, here.

The second question is on the libel question itself. Because this is now sub-judice, it is not possible to comment on the details of the alleged libels. The reasons why Jacqui decided to take action against Mr James are, however, well-known.

It is greatly to be hoped that the public eventually gets sight of what Mr James found so objectionable in Jacqui Thompson's blog so that people can decide for themselves whether this was a good use of public money.

In the meantime, if you are unfamiliar with Jacqui's blog, go and have a look for yourselves. Here it is.


Anonymous said...

Given the background to this case, which has been well documented in local papers and blogs, my personal view is that it is coming across as a personal issue and something the public should most certainly not be funding!

Anonymous said...

All Carmarthen CC has to do is stick to the law, something it seems woefully reluctant to do in many matters relating to openness and disclosure. If the law says it's OK, CCC does it and we don't like it we should vote this cabal of "Independent" clowns out of office. If it isn't legal and CCC wastes our money fighting the case, then those who voted for it should have to pay out of their own pockets.

Anonymous said...

Whether it is right or wrong would seem to be a moot point, since the kind of indemnity the council appear to be offering in Mr. James' counterclaim was outlawed by WAG in 2006!

Martin Milan said...

First of all - declaration of interest - It is my own blog that hosted the allegedly defamatory comments that caused Jacqui to act.

In short, I agree with the notion that a council should be able to defend it's officers and staff, but this is taking things to a whole new level. What we appear to be seeing here is a public body using the courts to attack their most vocal critic. That is something we should not accept.


Anonymous said...

i see carl sergeant and carwyn jones are quiet on this matter. this matter is not serious enough for funds to be used, and all it lloks like is ccc are using it to exert their power.. or mis-use of power

Anonymous said...

Can't the little weasel pay his own bills from his obscene salary? If he's sure to win, why not? And if he's not sure to win, then what the hell is he doing taking action? He's just drawing attention to his being a nasty little git. And the executive board agrees to pay, even though there's probably a good chance he won't win (or he'd pay for action himself)- doesn't that just underline the svengali-like hold he has over them. Or the hold he has over the old boot,hopefully soon to get the boot - and the fact she has the knackers of the board in her man-hands as they'll lose their extra "allowances" if they lose their posts if they don't toe the line. What an absolute disgrace. I'm beyond outraged. I'm nauseated.

Cneifiwr said...

Thank you for that, Anon. Of course, I think it is only fair to point out that this reference to weasels should not be taken literally. As far as I know, none of the council's officers is a small rodent. Cunning, perhaps, but definitely not a threat to bunny rabbits.