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Public law and Regulation

Case reports and guidance on public law and professional regulation issues

19 MAR 2014

R (on the application of Benjamin Dennehy) (Claimant) v London Borough of Ealing (Defendant) [2013] EWHC 4102 (Admin)

R (on the application of Benjamin Dennehy) (Claimant) v London Borough of Ealing (Defendant) [2013] EWHC 4102 (Admin)

A finding that a Councillor had breached a Council's Code of Conduct for Councillors had been supported by adequate reasons and was a proportionate interference with the Councillor's rights under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

20 December 2013

Administrative Court, Queen's Bench Division

HH Judge McKenna, sitting as a Judge of the High Court

(i) This was a hearing of an application for permission to apply for judicial review of a decision by the Standards Committee of the London Borough of Ealing. This decision was a finding that comments posted on a blog by the Claimant, an elected Councillor, breached the Council's 2007 Code of Conduct for Councillors.

(ii) The Claimant sought judicial review on two grounds: (1) that the Committee had failed to give adequate reasons for its decision and (2) that the Committee failed to have regard to the Claimant's protected rights under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

(iii) McKenna J held: (1) In relation to Ground 1 it was clear that the Committee had given reasons; these could be found in the minutes of the Standards Committee meeting discussing the issue and a letter to the Claimant following that meeting. The only question was whether those reasons were adequate, which depends on the context and nature of the decision, and must be assessed from the standpoint of an informed audience. Seen in this light, the reasons were plainly adequate: the Claimant was well aware of the contents of the Report produced by the investigating officer on which the Council based its decision, and the Claimant accepted the distinction drawn in the Report between the important and legitimate issues raised in the blog and the unnecessarily provocative and inappropriate tone of some of the content. (2) In relation to Ground 2 the Claimant's rights under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights were not infringed. (a) The Committee was entitled to find that what the Claimant had written did not treat others with respect and brought the Council and the office of the Councillor into disrepute. (b) This finding and the sanctions applied prima facie constituted a breach of Article 10. (c) However, the finding and the sanctions applied were justified under Article 10(2). The comments in question were raised in a separate part of the blog from that broaching topics of legitimate political debate. They were an unjustified personal and general attack on a specific sector of the public. The comments would have undermined confidence in local government, which it is a specific aim of the Code of Conduct to preserve. In addition, the interference on the Claimant was very limited - the sole sanction was a requirement to make an appropriate apology. (3) For these reasons the Council's decision, while engaging Article 10 of the Convention, was a proportionate interference. The application for judicial review was unarguable.

Permission refused.

Key paragraphs

[1] - [5] Introduction

[6] - [24] Legal framework

[25] - [41] Factual background

[42] - [47] Grounds of challenge

[48] Conclusions

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