Wednesday, 26 October 2011

More on those interests (just for the lawyers among you)


Following Bradford's recent debate on what have been dubbed 'pilgrims', I commented on the somewhat odd advice regarding interests:

I found it exceedingly odd how the City Solicitor deemed that receiving a declared donation to an election campaign or other political activity isn’t a prejudicial interest. I’m pretty sure that the same answer wouldn’t apply to me if the matter concerned say, Cullingworth Conservative Club (I sort of asked but got something of an equivocal answer from the City Solicitor).

So we asked for a definitive answer and here's an excerpt from the City Solicitor's response:

I stated at the meeting that I felt the creation of a prejudicial interest was ‘borderline’.  There are two reasons for my view.  Firstly the Code of Conduct states that a Member does not have a prejudicial interest in any business of the Authority where that business does not affect their financial position or the financial position of a person or Body described in paragraph 8 (the trade union).  It is debatable whether the withdrawal of facility time would automatically have a financial impact on the trade union.  It is not payments made directly to the trade union, but rather the provision of facility time for trade union officials.  Whilst I appreciate this represents a cost to the tax payer, it is by no means certain that that would automatically be reflected in a cost to the trade unions. 

Secondly, I considered the significance test in terms of whether the interest created (the payment towards election expenses) is sufficiently significant that it is likely to prejudice the judgement of what is in the wider public interest.  Standards for England have considered this significance test and their advice is that almost any degree of personal involvement or knowledge of a particular circumstance is likely to affect a Member’s judgement.  However, they recognise that a Member may well have been elected precisely because of his or her local knowledge or position/opinions on particular matters.  For an interest to be prejudicial it must be ‘likely to prejudice’ the Member’s judgement.  In other words the interest must be likely to harm or impair the Member’s ability to judge the public interest.  Standards for England are clear that the mere existence of local knowledge or connections with the local community will not normally be sufficient to meet the test.  There must be some factor that will positively harm the Member’s ability to judge the public interest objectively.  Further, Standards Board for England consider that if a Member shares a personal interest with a large number of people, it is less likely that a prejudicial interest will exist.

All very lawyerly but still pretty odd. But this little paragraph did make my eyebrows twitch a little:

Having regard to this guidance in the context of the matter under debate, although I agree it is borderline, my opinion is that the payment of election expenses is not sufficiently significant to create a prejudicial interest.

Bear in mind that we made a distinction between mere membership of a trade union (where I guess the individual gives the trade union money) from having your election expenses paid by the union.

As I said, I bet this wouldn't apply if Cullingworth Conservative Club were to pay mine!

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