Guidance/procedural note for the assessment & determination of allegations of breaches of the code of conduct for members
The Localism Act 2011 requires Councils to adopt a Code of Conduct which deals with the conduct expected of its elected and co-opted members when they are acting in their official capacity. The Code of Conduct is also required to include appropriate provisions relating to the registration and disclosure of pecuniary and other interests.
The Code of Conduct may not always cover a member’s behaviour in their private life. As there may be variations in the Codes of Conduct approved by the various Councils in Devon it is advisable to check the relevant Council’s Code of Conduct to see if it applies to the particular circumstances. Apart from those very limited circumstances, the obligations in the Code of Conduct only apply when a Councillor is acting as or giving the impression that they are acting in their official capacity.
Standards for England – the national regulator – was abolished in 2012 and in common with all Councils across the country, Devon County Council is now responsible for administering its own Code of Conduct. The County Council is required to have in place arrangements under which allegations can be investigated and decisions on allegations can be made as set out in this guidance/procedure note. It is of course expected (and reflected in the Code of Conduct) that Members are expected to comply with any complaints process and / or Standards Committee process.
The County Council is required to appoint at least one Independent Person whose views may be sought by the Council, usually through the Monitoring Officer, or by subject members. The Monitoring Officer and/or the Council must seek the views of an Independent Person before making a decision on a complaint about the behaviour of a County Councillor. The Council has appointed a number of Independent Persons which it may consult.
There is no right for the complainant to seek the views of the Independent Person and no such contact will be permitted. The Independent Persons do not represent and nor are they advisors to the subject member or the Council. They must remain completely impartial and objective and cannot take sides. Their only role is to assess complaints and form a view on them.
The 2011 Act says that an allegation is
“a written allegation …that a member or co-opted member of the authority has failed to comply with the authority’s code of conduct”
This document sets out the procedure for submitting a complaint alleging that the Code of Conduct has been breached and the procedures that will be followed in dealing with such complaints. It also sets out the criteria for assessing a complaint.
All allegations will be dealt with objectively, fairly and consistently. Any potential conflicts of interest will also be considered and the authority will take any necessary steps to ensure a fair process. This may, for example, involve asking a Monitoring Officer from another authority to undertake an investigation.
The Council will also have regard to what is in the public interest (and will apply a public interest test to any allegations) and its fiduciary duty to tax payers. Confidentiality will always be respected when requested in relation to allegations of harassment, bullying or victimisation.
Within these procedures references to the Monitoring Officer include the Monitoring Officer or his nominated representative(s). In this procedure the term ‘subject member’ means the member against whom the allegation has been made.