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Censured councillor’s freedom of expression breached

Lewis Calver, a member of Manorbier Community Council, brought a judicial review claiming that his right to freedom of expression under article 10 of the ECHR had been violated.

10 May 2012

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Mr Justice Beatson said it was agreed that the comments were “sarcastic and mocking”, whether or not they could be described as “snide”.

Pembrokeshire County Council’s standards committee decided that a number of the blogs and comments posted by Lewis on his website breached the code of conduct, created under part III of the Local Government Act 2000.

He was censured and required to attend a training session with the council’s monitoring officer.

Lewis appealed to the Adjudication Panel for Wales, which dismissed his appeal. He launched a judicial review against the panel’s decision.

Ruling in R (on the application of Lewis) v The Adjudication Panel for Wales [2012] EWHC 1172 (Admin), Beatson J said the councillor’s conduct did, prima facie, bring his office into disrepute.

“There is a clear public interest in maintaining confidence in local government,” he said. “But in assessing what conduct should be proscribed and the extent to which sarcasm and ridicule should be, it is necessary to bear in mind the importance of freedom of political expression or speech in the political sphere in the sense I have stated it has been used in the Strasbourg jurisprudence.

“The fact that more candidates did not come forward at the 2008 election to the community council may have reflected the disenchantment of local residents with the council and loss of confidence in it.”

Beatson J concluded that the adjudication panel took an “over-narrow” view of what amounted to “political expression”.

He said that, notwithstanding how he described the comments, the majority related to the way the council meetings were run and recorded.

“The comments were in no sense ‘high’ manifestations of political expression,” Beatson J said.

“But, they (or many of them) were comments about the inadequate performance of councillors in their public duties. As such, in my judgment, they fall within the term ‘political expression’ in the broader sense the term has been applied in the Strasbourg jurisprudence.”

Beatson J granted Lewis’ application for judicial review and set aside the adjudication panel’s decision.

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