Are you a councillor under threat of Governance & Standards committee referral and investigation for an alleged breach of your local Code of Conduct? There are basic procedures your Monitoring Officer should be following. These basics are found in the Localism Act and in your council’s own Governance and Standards Complaints Procedure.
In many post-Standards Board for England cases I’ve seen, Monitoring Officers fail to get a grip on Localism Act and their own council’s procedures. These grip failures can lead to ineffective investigations – and do nothing to assist Governance and Standards Committees in assessing whether or not there has been a breach of the Code.
Allegations must be written.
The Localism Act states:
“an allegation, in relation to a relevant authority, means a written allegation— that a member or co-opted member of the authority has failed to comply with the authority’s code of conduct”
Before any request for a councillor’s explanation, the Monitoring Officer will no doubt be required by their council’s own rules to provide an exact copy of the written complaint to the councillor.
The reason why the written allegation should be disclosed to the councillor at the outset is because the councillor must know exactly what’s being alleged before being expected to provide an answer to it.
Not a paraphrase in an email or telephone call ambush. This isn’t a Monitoring Officer to councillor general chat. It’s an investigation into a written allegation.
What are the constitutional law principles underpinning these procedures?
Executive branch officers (and Monitoring and other council officers are part of the Executive) only have power to act where parliament has given them that power.
The Localism Act only gives officers the power to investigate written allegations. There’s no power in law for Monitoring and other council officers to conduct fishing expeditions.
Now that the Standards Board has been abolished, many councillors are feeling obliged to get their own legal advice on how to hold Executive officers to account. The sooner advice is taken, the easier it is to untangle any council and Monitoring Officer missteps.