County Hall use of taxpayers’ money for defamation proceedings comes under Parliamentary spotlight

Member of Parliament Jonathan Edwards is calling for greater clarity from the government regarding the use of public money for public officials to instigate defamation proceedings.

Tabling an Early Day Motion (EDM 1284) in Parliament, Jonathan Edwards MP cited the recent James v Thompson trial in which the Chief Executive of Carmarthenshire County Council had his legal costs indemnified by the Council to instigate libel proceedings against a county resident.

Mr Edwards – Plaid Cymru MP for Carmarthen East & Dinefwr – said that whilst it was right and proper for public officials to have protection in defending defamation proceedings for work-related matters, his interest in the case was the worrying precedent set for local authorities to potentially stifle criticism with the threat of legal action funded by the public purse.

The James v Thompson case, which was heard at the High Court earlier this year, has cast a spotlight on the ineffectiveness of guidance issued by both Welsh and UK governments that prohibits the use of indemnities to council members and officers for the bringing of defamation proceedings.

Mr Edwards has also raised the matter with the Secretary of State for Local Government, Eric Pickles, who himself noted indemnities should be a ‘shield and not a sword’.

Speaking after tabling his Early Day Motion, Plaid Cymru MP Jonathan Edwards said:

“I’ve never commented on the merits of the court case in which Carmarthenshire Council indemnified its Chief Executive to bring libel proceedings against one of my constituents. My interest in the case has always been the use of taxpayers’ money to indemnify officers.

“Whilst it is right a proper for public officials to have protection in defending defamation proceedings for work-related matters, I don’t believe it is right that an authority should fund the instigating of libel proceedings. This sets a worrying precedent for local authorities to potentially stifle criticism with the threat of legal action funded by the public purse.

“I’ve tabled this motion as I believe the recent case has cast a spotlight on the ineffectiveness of Welsh and UK government guidance – neither of which permit indemnities for the bringing of defamation action.

“I hope MPs will support my EDM and highlight to governments both ends of the M4 that current guidance is clearly not working”.

ENDS

One Response to “County Hall use of taxpayers’ money for defamation proceedings comes under Parliamentary spotlight” [latest first]

  1. I live in South Tyneside. In 2009 our labour controlled council began a legal action to unmask the identity of a blogger. The action for defammation was taken on hehalf of the Council Leader, two other councillors, and a senior council officer. The action was kept secret and as far as we can establish was not reported to any council committees.The contents of the blog related, for the most part to these people’s private lives. Nevertheless the bill so far is in excess of £200000 pounds and is still rising. I have written to the department for local government with no outcome. At present we have the external auditor and the police investigating, both of whom, initially at least seem very resistent to take any action.I am now of the opinion that in spite of all the checks and balances that exist the unscrupulous in those organisations can do just as they like.

Discussion Area - Submit a comment

Your reply will be moderated and not appear immediately. You can prepare your text in a word processor before pasting it into the box, but formatting such as bold and colour will not appear.