The hearing was held behind closed doors to avoid ‘damaging to the reputation‘ of the unnamed councillor if the hearing did not find any wrongdoing.
By Julia Gregory, Local Democracy Reporter
The first standards hearing in a decade into allegations about an Islington councillor’s conduct was held behind closed doors on Monday 9th January 2023.
The council’s investigating officer, Sonal Mistry, and the interim monitoring officer, Marie Rosenthal, said the hearing should be held in private for reasons of privacy, quoting article eight of human rights legislation.
They argued that the allegations could be “damaging to their reputation” if the hearing did not find any wrongdoing.
A 148-page report detailing an alleged complaint and the investigation into it is also being kept private.
Three councillors and the Independent Person Luke Rigg were due to consider the report.
The Independent Person is present to enable the public to have confidence in how the council deals with allegations of misconduct.
The Localism Act 2011 requires the council to put in place at least one Independent Person to assist the Monitoring Officer, as a consultee, during the whole process.
During the hearing, the council’s interim monitoring officer will have outlined the allegations and the parts of the councillors’ code of conduct which is alleged to have been breached.
She will have also explained if the councillor has agreed to make an apology or undertake training or conciliation with the complainant.
The councillor, who was not present during the public part of the meeting before the press were excluded, could have been represented by a lawyer if they so chose.
Whilst no details of any allegations have been made public, Islington councillors’ code of conduct sets out the expected standards.
The Local Democracy Reporting Service asked the committee, chaired by Cllr Anjna Khuruna to consider the council’s own policy that “hearings should be held in public where possible to make sure the hearing process is open and fair”, and article 6 of the Human Rights Act: only excluding all or part of the hearing if, in the interest of morals, public order, justice, national security in a democratic society, or protecting young people under 18 ,and the private lives of anyone involved.
The council’s policy also states: “there is a clear public interest in promoting the probity (integrity and honesty) in public authorities and public confidence in them. For these reasons the hearing should be held in public unless the committee decides that the privacy of anyone involved is more important than the need for a public hearing.”
The government scrapped its standards board in 2010 and councils could set up their own standards committees instead.
Some hold their hearings behind closed doors, whilst others, including Kensington and Chelsea council, hold them in public.
At the last Islington council standards committee in 2014, councillors met for 25 minutes and looked at the code of conduct for councillors and the way investigations were run.
In 2013, it looked at three complaints against a councillor in a 25-minute meeting, ruling that no action should be taken because “the code of conduct did not apply in respect of the activities complained of as the member was acting in his capacity as a trade unionist, or in some other private capacity, rather than as a councillor.”
According to the minutes, the press and public were excluded from the hearing, which was chaired by then-councillor Alice Perry.
An independent observer was present for the meeting, which was a requirement of its hearings procedure.
This story was updated on 12/11/23. The previous version referred to Islington Council’s investigating officer incorrectly as “Sonel Mistral”, rather than Sonal Mistry This has now been amended.