Tuesday 26 March 2013

A Victory Parade

The Local Authorities (Indemnities for Members and Officers) Order 2006 and the Welsh Government's accompanying guidelines are clear that Welsh councils may not use public funds to enable council officers and councillors to pursue libel claims through the courts, and there is a long-standing convention that councils themselves may not bring actions for defamation.

So when the chief executive of Carmarthenshire County Council brought a counter-claim against blogger Jacqui Thompson and won punitive damages of £25,000 against her on the back of it, the question arises of whether he was doing this in a personal capacity or as an arm of the council.

While the trial was in progress, anyone up and about in Carmarthen in the early hours may have seen two shiny black Mercedes belonging to the council heading east. Comfortably ensconced in the black leather interior were the chief executive himself, his wife and various council functionaries, including the authority's Head of Law and, bizarrely, the manager of the council's press office.

The limos purred along the M4 to Swansea, where the worthies boarded a train with first class return tickets for London.

The press office was quick to issue a press release welcoming the judge's verdict on 15 March, and the chief executive gave interviews to local newspapers.

Clearly that was not enough. It is understood that some councillors are now being fed with extracts from the court transcript, although for what purpose it is not clear, and yesterday, 10 days after the verdict, an article appeared as the centrepiece on the council's web site giving links to the text of the judgement.

All of this is in stark contrast to the council's extreme reluctance to tell its councillors and the public whenever the Ombudsman for Public Services issues reports which show the authority in a less than flattering light.

It may be a coincidence, but Mr James told the Carmarthen Journal in his interview that county councillors would all be given training in defamation law to prepare them for the broadcasting of council meetings.

The training will no doubt emphasise the dire consequences that may await all those who speak out of turn, and Jacqui Thompson will almost certainly be held up as a warning.

This will not be a problem for those councillors who rarely if ever speak in council meetings, but it may well be enough to convince others that the best policy is to keep quiet as well and leave all the talking to Mr James.

Who knows, perhaps Mr James may next decide that to drive his message home, a parade of open topped buses around Carmarthen and Llanelli is appropriate. He can be sure of a warm welcome from council tax payers, that's for sure.


Anonymous said...

I was horrified to see Carmarthenshire County Council's home page yesterday, trumpeting the judgement against Mrs Thompson. How sad that the crushing of one individual appears to rank at the top of the council's current order of priorities.

Richard Powell said...

Did Mrs James travel to London at public expense?

Anonymous said...

If what you say in the first paragraph is correct, and I have no reason whatsoever to doubt it,then serious questions should be asked as to his being sued as an officer or a private individual.

Anonymous said...

So it is ok for an individual to lie and not be sued ? So should Council Officers and Councillors accept libel , harassment without recourse to the law
question for you to answer Cneifwr

Tessa said...

Insanity. The emperor Caligula appointed his horse Incitatus as a senator. A good illustration of how when in a position of power,unchecked and unchallenged, ones acions go from mad to madder.

Anonymous said...

Ride a Horse save a cowperson.

Anonymous said...

But the council did not bring a claim. That was Ms Thompson. The real question is whether the council should have funded the counter-claim or just a defence. In all fairness it was not the council that took this to court.

It's a shame that the facts of the case have been confused by activist support for Ms Thompson who was found to have perverted the course of justice.

Anonymous said...

TY Pam

Cant be Kev spelling and grammer correct!

Anonymous said...

@ Anon 08:30 - It could be argued that this is a hollow victory for CCC

Richard Powell - I was about to ask the same question!

@ Anon 16:26 - Absolutely

@ Anon 20:35 - The question is as anon 23:02 put it, "...is whether the council should have funded the counter-claim ...?"

Martin Milan said...

I for one will need a lot of convincing on the idea that Jacqui has attempted to pervert the course of justice. Attempting to pervert the course of justice requires a deliberate mind - and I do not believe Jacqui would qualify for that.

The offence of Common Assault is terribly, terribly wide reaching - to the extent that is technically possible to commit VERBALLY. Unless the officer had a lawful reason to try an seize Jacqui's phone, then she might perfectly reasonably allege common assault against him - assuming of course that he did grab her / the phone.

Similarly, "stealing" is an interesting one as well. For stealing we have to look toward the Theft Act, and the offence of theft requires an intent to permanently deprive someone of their possession. The general public, of whom Jacqui is a member, are rarely aware of that. Many people would perceive taking unlawful possession, even on a temporary basis, as stealing.

I would only support an allegation of attempting to pervert the course of justice if she had deliberately told the police a falsehood - and I would remind everyone here that the council's "witnesses" were VERY wishy washy as to what they claimed to have seen...

Delyth Jenkins said...

This seems to be double standards considering I was hit over the head by the same carer who went on 13 months later to hit a service user with learning disabilities in an almost identical way, although as I have said before, the hit the service user received was with greater force than mine because as evidenced in the Ombudsman's report, the force literally lifted her from her chair. The Council have never investigated the assault on me, even though they have been provided with a statement from a colleague who witnessed the assault, and even the Police say it was classed as common assault. How can the Council not investigate an assault on a member of staff?

Anonymous said...

It might open a can of worms!

Delyth Jenkins said...

Anon 15.15

....and it would prove that I have been saying the truth all along.