Northumberland councillors relying on outside legal advice which goes against the authority’s own will now have to declare it in advance before using it in council business.
This was the subject of a motion passed at last Wednesday’s full meeting of Northumberland County Council and introduced by Conservative Coun David Bawn, which also said that who provided the advice and who commissioned or paid for it should be declared as well.
Labour leader Coun Grant Davey attempted to amend the motion so that the legal services officer would protect the confidentiality of the legal advice, but his amendment failed.
A frustrated Coun Bernard Pidcock described the motion as ‘stupid’ and ‘meaning absolutely and completely nothing’.
“This is a vexatious motion and brought out of malice and trying to score points,” he added.
Coun Allan Hepple asked why individual councillors were being asked to share their legal advice when the council refused to share its own advice about the impact of the withdrawal of the core strategy on neighbourhood plans when this decision was taken last summer.
But Coun Bawn said: “What we’re saying in this motion is that any legal advice that you are intending to use in the proceedings of this council needs to be disclosed, this does not affect legal privilege, it does not affect your right to take advice in private and in confidence.
“What it is seeking to prevent – and it is not vexatious, this is actually a very, very serious point – we have had members in the past saying in this chamber and committees that they have legal advice contradicting officers.
“That’s fine, you can do that, but you can’t just say that, you’ve got to provide evidence of that and if you’re going to second-guess our professional officers and say you disagree with them, that’s fine, but if you say I have the legal authority of a qualified legal opinion that you are wrong, you must declare that.
“Moving onto the second point about who provided that advice and who paid for it, that’s a very important add-on to the disclosures we all make about connected parties when we are involved in council business.”
Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service