Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Using the 'standards' procedure instead of the ballot box is costing local taxpayers thousands

Some of you may have noticed that I recently started blogging again, after a few months of 'blog silence'. There's a single reason I stopped - because I didn't want to worsen any punishment given to me for blogging about policing matters.

And there's a simple reason I have started again: because I have been cleared of any wrongdoing, and the threat of punishment lifted from over my head, after over a year, three meetings of the Sussex Police Authority Standards Committee and a lawyer's investigation.

Back in 2010 I was accused of bringing the police authority into disrepute for the threefold 'crime' of blogging about policing in Brighton, being a 'member' of a anti-arms trade campaign group (some of whose supporters have been arrested after taking direct action against the EDO arms factory in Moulsecoomb), and also for attending a peace demonstration.

It didn't take long for the charges to be thrown out - but the (anonymous) complainant appealed, and so it was considered all over again. Second time around the panel decided it needed to commission an inquiry to decide whether I had broken the members' code of conduct or not, so an out-of-town lawyer was engaged and a full investigation carried out.

The verdict: the rights of free speech and free assembly in the Human Rights Act mean that any member of the police authority is free to say what they want, and t to attend any demonstration he or she likes. Oh and the group concerned is a little bit on the anarchist side and doesn't seem to have any members anyway. the whole saga has been covered in The Argus and by the Brighton Politics Blog.

So that's the end of that then.

Except for the vast sums of money spent on the affair - money that, in my view, would be better spent on policing - perhaps offsetting some of the 1,000+ job cuts Sussex Police is being forced to make thanks to Tory cuts.

And for the rather sinister pattern that seems to be emerging out of recent use of the standards and complaints system locally: that people (usually Tory councillors) who object to the things elected officials are saying are making official complaints about them - complaints that seem to get thrown out on appeal, after vast sums of public money have been spent. Just look at the case of fellow Green Party councillor Jason Kitcat, for example: the complaint against him, for posting selective clips of council meetings on YouTube for all the world to see, was thrown out after a grand appeal hearing at a city centre hotel.

Of course I'm not saying we shouldn't have a system for punishing corrupt or dishonest councillors, or ones who, like former Tory councillor Peter Willows, made comments that denigrated minorities - just that there has to be a better system for doing so than we've got now.

Personally, I think cases of corruption, or abuse of minorities, should be dealt with by the criminal courts.

As for councillors who express lawful opinions some people don't like, I reckon the best system anyone's come up with yet for punishing them is the ballot box.

If your elected councillor is saying things you don't agree with - just vote for someone else.


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