Council decision to scrap complainants’ right of appeal is ‘abhorrent’ - vice chairman

JPCT 040314 S14100995x Christian Mitchell -photo by Steve Cobb SUS-140403-171304001
JPCT 040314 S14100995x Christian Mitchell -photo by Steve Cobb SUS-140403-171304001

The council’s decision to scrap a complainant’s right of appeal was blasted as ‘abhorrent’ by its own vice-chairman.

Previously if a member of the public made a complaint against a Horsham district councillor they had an internal right of appeal if the Standards Committee decided to take no action, while members had a right of review if they were found to have breached their code of conduct.

However at a Full Council meeting last Wednesday councillors accepted the Standards Committee’s recommendation to remove both.

The Standards Regime Review noted that the majority of authorities that had responded to an online survey had not kept a right of review.

It said that complainants wishing to take a complaint further could take it to the local Government Ombudsman or seek a judicial review.

But Christian Mitchell (Con, Holbrook West), vice chairman of the council, said: “I find this recommendation absolutely abhorrent and against all the principles of natural justice.

“I’m perplexed as to how the Standards Committee came to this conclusion.”

He called proposals ‘misconceived’ and asked members if they wanted the council to be dragged to the high courts.

Peter Burgess (Con, Holbrook West) called for the item to be deferred to the next Full Council, since they had met for an unscheduled meeting.

Despite half the cabinet being absent Ian Howard (Con, Southwater) said: “There seems to be a suggestion it’s not a Full Council meeting. It’s a Full Council meeting and this is how we do our business. Let’s get on with this decision.”

Brian Donnelly (Con Pulborough and Coldwaltham), chairman of the Standards Committee, added: “To delay this now, I can’t comprehend why this is happening and why people have not prepared for this meeting.”

Despite Mr Mitchell’s plea to defer the decision the vast majority of members voted against Mr Burgess’ proposal.

Several members of the Tory group then took the opportunity to deny any whipping took place at HDC.

Jonathan Chowen (Con, Cowfold, Shermanbury and West Grinstead) said: “There’s never been a whip in a formal way. To give the impression that the Standards Committee could be whipped is reprehensible to the highest degree. I do not think that can be allowed to go unchallenged.”

He thought the suggestion that standards decisions could be whipped should be referred to the Standards Committee for discussion.

Diana Van Der Klugt (Con, Chantry) added: “I can’t see in the minutes here any real explanation or justification as to why these rights are being suggested we give them up.”

Philip Circus (Con, Chanctonbury), chairman of the council, suggested the new arrangements would actually increase the public’s confidence in the system.

He explained: “There was a feeling that to some extent we were reviewing our own decisions and in a way there was likely to be more public confidence in having a route that takes it out of our hands to an independent adjudicator.”

This was backed by Claire Vickers (Con, Southwater) who added: “It’s much better to have a completely independent review. To take it to the highest level is much cleaner.”