The Standards Commission is an independent body whose purpose is to encourage high ethical standards in public life through the promotion and enforcement of Codes of Conduct for councillors and those appointed to the boards of devolved public bodies.
Holding Hearings in Public
28th September 2021
Why hold Hearings in Public?
One of the Standards Commission’s main responsibilities is to hold Hearings to decide whether or not councillors and board members of devolved public bodies have breached their Codes of Conduct. These Hearings are held in public, either in person, or online. If they are held online, they are simultaneously livestreamed on the Standards Commission’s website.
But why all the exposure? It’s understandable if there has been a lot of publicity about a councillor or board member having posted abusive or threatening messages on social media. But who cares if a councillor in some other local authority has failed to declare a connection a family member has to a planning or licensing application? Or that a board member has disclosed confidential information?
The answer is transparency. What seems like a trivial matter can actually, in a local context, be very important. Councillors and board members are responsible for making a wide range of decisions that impact on everyone’s day to day lives. This can include decisions on the provision of public services, on regulatory and licensing matters and on the spending of vast amounts of public money.
This means that the public are placing a great deal of trust in their elected representatives and those appointed to the boards of public bodies. The public are entitled to have confidence that such individuals will act, at all times, in the public interest and with high ethical standards. It is of real importance, therefore, that councillors and board members adhere to the Codes of Conduct, which regulate these standards.
And it is of equal importance that councillors and board members are held publicly accountable when they fail to do so. Holding Hearings in public allows the Standards Commission to be transparent about the standards of conduct expected. When a councillor or member is found to have breached their Code, a sanction must be imposed. The fact that these sanctions are publicised can act as a deterrent to others who may find themselves in similar situations. It can also serve as an example on how not to act in a given circumstance.
The public nature of Hearings also gives the public, along with the councillor, board member, and any other interested party, the opportunity to see what evidence has been led and to hear the submissions made. This allows them to have confidence that the Standards Commission’s decisions on breach and sanction are made fairly and objectively. Additionally, the complainer and any victim of the alleged conduct can see action being taken. In the case of a councillor, it gives the local electorate the opportunity to watch the adjudication process, to help them make informed decisions when voting.
But is holding Hearings in public not expensive?
The Standards Commission only decides to hold a Hearing where it considers it is in the public interest and proportionate to do so. In addition, Hearings in person are held at the headquarters of the council or public body, meaning that no accommodation costs are incurred. In the case of a councillor, it also means that local press and the constituents can attend.
But does holding a Hearing in public not mean that personal and sensitive issues may be disclosed?
No, a Hearing Panel can decide, either of its own volition or on request, to hold some of the proceedings in private if, for example, it is concerned about the personal well-being or safety of any parties involved in a case (including any witnesses), or where there are significant confidentiality concerns (where, for example, medical evidence was being considered).
Information about forthcoming Hearings can be found on the Cases page of this website.