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Guide: Making a Complaint about a Devon County Councillor

Part 5

What happens to my complaint – how is it processed and dealt with?

When a complaint is received (which is within the scope of the Councillor complaints process) the Council aims to acknowledge receipt within three working days.

If the monitoring officer considers that the allegation concerned may disclose an offence under the Localism Act 2011 or otherwise, they will, in appropriate circumstances, pass to the police or Director of Public Prosecutions. No prosecution can be brought without the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

If it transpires that no offence was committed, whether following trial or otherwise, the complaint could be reintroduced to this procedure for determination of any breach of the code and appropriate sanction, if any.

The monitoring officer or their nominated representative(s) will carry out a preliminary assessment of whether the alleged behaviour falls within the code of conduct – and collect any information they deem necessary.

This will normally be done within 10 working days. If the allegation is about a matter outside of the code of conduct (see Part 3) or is within one of the criteria set out below, the complaint will not usually progress beyond the initial assessment stage and the complainant will be notified accordingly, for example:

  • if the complaint is substantially the same as a complaint previously dealt with
  • if the period since the alleged behaviour is so significant that it is unreasonable or not in the public interest to pursue
  • if the complaint is trivial
  • if the complaint discloses a minor breach of the code that it is not in the public interest to pursue
  • if the complaint is/appears to be malicious, politically motivated or tit-for-tat and the complaint doesn’t disclose sufficiently serious potential breaches of the code.
  • if the complaint is covered by the Council’s persistent and vexatious complaints policy and the complaint doesn’t disclose sufficiently serious potential breaches of the code.
  • if the member against whom the allegation has made reasonable efforts to put things right and the complaint does not disclose sufficiently serious potential breaches of the code
  • if the complaint is about a person who is no longer a member of the Council

During the preliminary assessment, the monitoring officer will write to the subject member, attaching a copy of the complaint, and consider any comments the subject member has regarding the complaint.

The monitoring officer will consult with the independent person. The name of the complainant will be disclosed to the subject member unless confidentiality has been requested and the monitoring officer considers that request to be justified.

The monitoring officer will, following consultation with the independent person, determine what action is to be taken on the complaint in accordance with the assessment criteria which can be seen in Appendix 2. The options available are set out in paragraphs 1 to 6 of Appendix 2.

If the monitoring officer is of the view that a local settlement is unachievable, or the complaint warrants it, they shall, following consultation with the independent person, institute a formal investigation and report the findings of that investigation together with the views of the independent person to the full Standards Committee for determination (with neither the complainant nor the subject member having the right of attendance).

The monitoring officer may refer the complaint to an Assessment Sub-Committee (comprising three members of the Standards Committee and at least one shall be a co-opted member) to determine whether or not the allegation appears to disclose a failure to observe the code of conduct and then, if it judges such a failure, whether the matter merits investigation. Thereafter the monitoring officer can:

  • consult the independent person if the Assessment Sub-Committee suggests any action other than a formal investigation
  • institute a formal investigation if the Assessment Sub-Committee is of the view that the matter merits investigation
  • report the findings of that investigation together with the views of the independent person on those findings to the full Standards Committee for determination (with neither party having the right of attendance)

The monitoring officer and the subject member may seek the views of the nominated independent person at any time during the process.

The assessment and determination of complaints will normally be conducted by an Assessment Sub-Committee or the full Standards Committee in ‘Part II or closed’ session and information relating thereto will be considered exempt under the provisions of the Local Government (Access to Information) Act 1985 and Schedule 12A of the Local Government Act 1972, subject to the application of the public interest test, as appropriate.

Data protection requirements will be complied with and may prevent the public disclosure of information relating to complaints.

When the Committee has considered the complaint, the outcome will be sent to the subject member and the complainant and the decision notice (that is, the minutes of the meeting) published. This will be available on the Council’s website.

Below is a summary of the above process.

Step Action
1 If the circumstances of the complaint indicate that an offence under Chapter 7 of Part 1 of the Localism Act 2011 may have been committed and that the complaint ought to be investigated, by the police, then this will be forwarded accordingly.
2

The monitoring officer will consider whether the complaint falls within the Councillor Complaints Procedure. If so, the monitoring officer will write to the subject member with details of the complaint, including who has complained (unless any confidentiality request has been agreed).

The monitoring officer will also provide the subject member with the details of the independent person who has been appointed to advise on the complaint and who the subject member may contact to seek their views.

The subject member is given an opportunity to provide a written response to the complaint.

There may be a time limit given for providing this written response.

3 The subject member can provide a written response and any additional evidence or indicate that they do not wish to provide such a response.
4 The monitoring officer will consider the complaint again in the context of any written submissions and supporting documentation provided by the subject member.
5

The monitoring officer will, following consultation with the independent person, determine what action to be taken on the complaint.

The other options could be:

  • to make no finding as to whether there has been a breach of the code and take no further action
  • to make no finding as to whether there has been a breach of the code but determine that some action other than an investigation is appropriate including, for example, some form of local settlement or conciliation
  • to find no breach of the code
  • to find a breach of the code without an investigation but take no action
  • to find a breach of the code without an investigation and take some action
  • to refer the complaint to an Assessment Sub Committee to determine whether or not the complaint should be formally investigated
  • to require the complaint to be formally investigated
6

Where a complaint is investigated, a report shall be generated which shall be presented to the full Standards Committee. Before that happens, the subject member will be consulted on both the draft report and final report (with 10 working days to respond) and their views be reported to the Standards Committee alongside the investigation report.

Having considered the investigation report, the Standards Committee shall make a finding as to whether or not there has been a breach of the code and, if there is a finding of a breach, what action should be taken.

7 The outcome of the determination of the complaint will be notified in writing to the complainant and the subject member within five working days.

NB: Steps 1 to 5 above will normally be conducted within 28 days of receipt of the complaint. If it is not possible to complete any such tasks within that time the complainant and subject member will be contacted and advised of the delay and when the steps will be completed.


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