4. Complaint outcomes
Complaint alleging criminal conduct
Where the complainant alleges criminal conduct (including failure to register or declare a dis-closable pecuniary interest or voting at a council meeting where such an interest exists) the monitoring officer will refer the complaint to the police.
No further action
The case is closed and a letter sent to both the complainant and the councillor with an explanation why. The councillor will be given the option of whether they wish for details of the complaint and outcome to be published. If not, details of the complaint will remain confidential.
Some examples of where no further action may be appropriate are:
- the complaint is the same or substantially the same as a complaint previously dealt with
- the period since the alleged behaviour is so significant that it is considered to be inequitable, unreasonable or otherwise not in the public interest to pursue
- the complaint is considered trivial
- the complaint discloses such a minor or technical breach of the code that it is not in the public interest to pursue
- the complaint appears or is malicious, politically motivated, tit-for-tat or otherwise submitted with an improper motive and the complainant is not considered to disclose sufficiently serious potential breaches of the code to merit further consideration
- the complaint is covered by the council's persistent and vexatious complaints policy and the complaint is not considered to disclose sufficiently serious potential breaches of the code to merit further consideration
- the councillor has provided a satisfactory remedy to the complaint
- the complaint is about a person who is no longer a member of a relevant council and there are no overriding public interest reasons to merit further consideration
- there is evidence to suggest a potential breach of the code but the circumstances do not warrant further action
Where appropriate, the aim is to help facilitate conciliation and local settlement, finding a fair way to resolve the complaint informally to the satisfaction of both parties. If agreement is reached, a letter is sent to the complainant and the councillor, setting out the agreed resolution. The councillor is asked if they agree to publication of the outcome. If the councillor does not agree, details of the complaint remain confidential.
Where it hasn't been possible to resolve the complaint informally the monitoring officer will decide on what action, if any, should be taken.
Some examples that may result in informal resolution are:
- less serious complaints where the councillor wishes to put their actions right
- a general breakdown in relationships at the council where other action such as mediation may help
- complaints where the public interest in conducting an investigation does not justify the costs of such an investigation
Other action, such as training, or referral to the political group leaders or parish or town council, may be requested in cases where:
- there is a lack of experience or the councillor(s) may benefit from additional training or mentoring
- the issue appears to be in the political arena and therefore appropriate for referral to a leader(s) of a political group to deal with
- it appears that the town or parish council would be best placed to resolve the issue
- there is the same alleged breach of the code by many of the council's councillors, indicating a poor understanding of the code and authority's procedures
This is advised in a letter to the complainant and the councillor. The councillor is asked if they agree to publication of the outcome. If the councillor does not agree, details of the complaint remain confidential.
Complaint referred for investigation
Where the monitoring officer, in consultation with the independent person, decides the complaint can't be resolved informally and is serious enough to warrant investigation, she will appoint an investigator. This could be an appropriately skilled council officer from this or another council, or an external investigator. The investigation will be proportionate and include interviews with everyone the investigator decides will help them to assess the complaint and reach a conclusion.
In exceptional circumstances, the identity of the complainant will be kept confidential if the monitoring officer considers it necessary or the councillor will not be notified immediately of the complaint where this may prejudice the investigation.
Once the investigation is complete a final report is issued.
Where the investigator finds that there hasn't been a breach of the code, the monitoring officer will inform the complainant, the councillor and the town or parish council if relevant, in writing. The councillor is asked if they agree to publication of the outcome. If the councillor doesn't agree, details of the complaint remain confidential.
Where the investigator finds there has been a breach of the code, the monitoring officer will try to facilitate a local resolution where appropriate. If this is not appropriate or possible she will arrange a hearings sub-committee. This is a public meeting in which the investigator and the councillor will be able to make representations to the hearings sub-committee before that committee decides what, if any, sanction is appropriate. In cases where the councillor persuades the hearing that there are legitimate reasons for holding the hearing in private, the public will be excluded from all or part of the hearing.
Some examples that investigations are used for include:
- disclosure of confidential information, except where allowed by the code
- behaviour that is disrespectful, bullying or intimidating
- conduct that might breach equality laws
- conduct that would bring the office of the councillor or the council into disrepute, especially where the conduct is deliberate, dishonest or duplicitous
Actions that the standards hearings sub- committee can take
The sanctions available to the hearings sub-committee are:
- censure or reprimand the councillor
- publish its findings in respect of the councillor's conduct
- report its findings to council (or to the town or parish council) for information
- recommend to the councillors' group leader (or in the case of councillors not in a group, recommend to council or to committees) that he/she be removed from any or all committees or sub-committees of the council
- recommend to the leader of the council that the councillor be removed from cabinet or removed from particular portfolio responsibilities
- recommend to council that the councillor be replaced as executive leader
- instruct the monitoring officer to (or recommend that the parish council) arrange training for the councillor
- remove (or recommend to the parish council that the councillor be removed) from all outside appointments to which he/she has been appointed or nominated by the authority (or by the parish council)
- withdraw (or recommend to the parish council that it withdraws) facilities provided to the councillor by the council, such as a computer, website and/or email and internet access
- exclude (or recommend that the parish council exclude) the councillor from the council's offices or other premises, with the exception of meetings rooms as necessary for attending council and committee meetings
Powers to enforce compliance
The hearings sub-committee can only recommend a particular sanction to the relevant town or parish council. The committee and the monitoring officer don't have any power to enforce compliance.