High Court rules that Honiton Town Council acted unlawfully

The Honiton Beehive. Picture by Alex Walton. Ref mhh 2243-34-14AW

The Honiton Beehive. Picture by Alex Walton. Ref mhh 2243-34-14AW - Credit: Archant

Honiton Town Council acted unlawfully by imposing additional sanctions on one of its members who publicly criticised its financial dealings, the High Court has ruled.

In a letter to the press, Cllr John Taylor made a number of claims about the legality and propriety of a loan obtained by the council for The Beehive Community Centre.

He was particularly critical of the town clerk, Chetna Jones, who brought a complaint against him.

East Devon District Council’s standards sub-committee subsequently found him to be in breach of the council’s code of conduct.

But when the town council later imposed further sanctions, he applied for a judicial review, claiming they were wrong to do so.

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Now High Court Judge Mr Justice Edis has ruled in his favour.

He said that in applying additional sanctions ‘over and above those recommended by East Devon District Council’, Honiton Town Council acted unlawfully.

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But he continued: “The decision of East Devon District Council as to Cllr John Taylor being in breach and the sanctions it recommended was lawful.”

Mr Justice Edis concluded this after considering with some care whether he should make any order at all in the case and whether he should consider the questions raised by the parties since they were academic because the decision had been withdrawn, several times.

The summary continued: “It must be remembered that Honiton is under the statutory duty to maintain high standards of conduct. The existence of a code of conduct is regarded by Parliament as an important aspect of the maintenance of standards. It appears to me to be proportionate to a significant breach of it for a relevant authority to require the person in breach to be trained in its meaning and application. There is no point in having a code of conduct if members of the authority are not aware of its meaning and effect and where a member has demonstrated by his conduct that this is the case, a reasonable amount of training appears to be a sensible measure. A local authority should be able to require its members to undertake training which is designed to enable them to fulfil their public functions safely and effectively.

“It was reasonably open to the decision-maker to conclude that this was a serious breach of the code. There is no finding as to the claimant’s motives and it may be that he acted in good faith, believing that his statement about the town clerk was justified. However, it was not. He accused her of criminal conduct when there was not the slightest justification for doing so. This was a very serious error of judgment. Therefore, a requirement of training was proportionate.”

Honiton Town Council was due to consider its formal response to the judgment at its meeting on Monday, January 9.

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