Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Common sense versus revenge

Update 8 December

Keen Kremlin watchers have noticed that the published agenda for next week's meeting does not include either Cllr Lenny's motion or Cllr Caiach's question. Although the press had previously reported that the motion had been accepted for debate, it seems the Executive Suite in County Hall had other ideas, and the hapless "Chair" of the council has refused to accept either the motion or the question having received advice from the council's Head of Law (appointed by Mr James, rather conveniently) to the effect that they could be in contempt of court.

Any readers with a legal background may wish to comment on this interpretation. A useful guide to contempt in civil proceedings can be found here.

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There is at last a glimmer of hope that common sense and basic human decency will prevail in the Jacqui Thompson case.

The BBC and the press are reporting that two of the most senior and widely respected councillors, Alun Lenny (Plaid) and Cefin Campbell (Plaid) have submitted a motion proposing that the Thompsons should be allowed to stay in their home, with the council refraining from forcing a sale of the property.

According to the Carmarthen Journal, which has the most detailed report, the motion for next Wednesday's (13 December) meeting of full council, reads as follows:

"Carmarthenshire Council expresses concern about the way in which its reputation has been tarnished in recent years by the court actions involving our chief executive and Mrs Jacqui Thompson.

"We fully accept that the previous council was obliged to defend its most senior officer in the High Court against a libel accusation.

"We also accept that it was the chief executive's prerogative to launch a personal counter-libel action to protect his reputation.

"The judicial outcome clearly vindicates these actions. However, we are now concerned that the pursual of damages and costs is having the perverse effect of causing damage to the reputation of this council and its chief executive.

"We urge the chief executive and the executive board to seek means of settling this matter in a way which will not result in Mrs Thompson losing her home.

"We believe that such a conciliatory approach would enhance the reputation of this council and its chief executive and help bring closure to this toxic issue."

There is no guarantee that a majority of councillors will agree to support the motion, and it is not clear whether the vote will be whipped along party lines. What we can be sure of is that there will be a lot of behind-the-scenes arm twisting in County Hall ahead of the vote.

Apart from uncertainty about the outcome of a vote, a hugely complicating factor is the Chief Executive's own legal action to force payment of his damages. Mr James has a charge on the property and is understood to be preparing court action which would force the sale of the Thompsons' home.

Much will depend on what appears to have been a rather vague commitment by Mr James to pay any damages over to the council. If that agreement holds good, the council would be the real beneficiary of Mr James's court action, and so in theory at least it could try to persuade him not to proceed.

Whether Mr James would be amenable to such a suggestion and possibly agree to formalise an arrangement by transferring his claim to the council remains to be seen.

In addition to the motion, it is understood that Cllr Siân Caiach will submit a question asking for clarification of what Mr James would do with his damages.

It is not unknown for motions to be withdrawn or heavily amended at the last minute, but currently the scene is set for a very interesting meeting next week, with councillors being asked to decide whether they see any possible benefit in forcing a sale. Not only would that incur yet more legal costs and drag on for many more months, but the end result would be to make a family homeless and, most likely, the sale by auction of the property at significantly below its true market value.

As things stand, councillors and Mr James will have a straight choice between a pragmatic solution which would finally end this toxic disaster, or revenge.

14 comments:

Myfanwy said...

A bit of common sense at last. But things should never have got this far considering that the indemnity of Mr James's costs was ruled unlawful by the Audit Office and therefore, in my opinion, councillors who made the unlawful decision should be individually surcharged to cover the costs.

Glyn Morris said...

Is notn part of the problem that if the current or a future council were to write off the perceived debt of MsThomas they could face a surcharge? It would be an equal injustice if they faced a financial penalty for trying to address the sins of those who started thus sorry mess with sympathy.

Anonymous said...

Provided the motion as set out is put to the council I hope Cllr. Lenny will ask for a recorded vote so we can clearly see the view of each councillor. It will also be good to see who is absent. I am sure Mark James will recall on this occasion that he must declare an interest and leave the meeting.

Cneifiwr said...

Glyn

I don't think that a surcharge would apply here for two reasons:

1. The council has taken action to obtain a charge on the property.
2. In reality it would not recover the £190k if it forced a sale.

The Executive Board appears to have decided not to pursue costs arising from the (unlawful) counterclaim, so it is presumably also not concerned about the threat of a surcharge.

Anonymous said...

This acquiescently worded motion is too little, too late. Mr James’ application to force the sale of Jacqui Thompson’s home was submitted two months ago. In the meantime, following the Plaid-led executive board’s decision to pursue her for costs, the Council’s interim charge on her home was made final at the hearing last Friday this enables the council to force the sale of her home as well.
Last month Cllr Dole, in written reply to Sian Caiach’s question, confirmed it was their intention to pursue the recovery of these costs – she reported that he stated “The Executive Board have decided, he reminded me, to extract the £190,000 legal costs awarded against Mrs Thompson as the council tax payers should not have to bear these costs.”
Why instigate this action now, with its associated costs, if this is not the intention?

As there is veiled criticism of chief executive, something which is absolutely forbidden and usually results in the threat of dire consequence, I doubt if the motion will be put before full council. Cllr Dole will provide a bland written answer along the same lines as supplied to Cllr Caiach.

This will also happen with Cllr Caiach’s current question asking for clarification of what Mr James would do with his damages. However, there can only be one answer which is that he will hand them over to the Council. Tim Kerr QC is quite clear on this point in his report of 27/11/13 in which he refers to it on four occasions. Surely no one would have tried to mislead the Council and their legal team on such an important consideration.

Jac o' the North, said...

As ever, Plaid Cymru disappoints. Particularly with the section reading -

"We fully accept that the previous council was obliged to defend its most senior officer in the High Court against a libel accusation.

"We also accept that it was the chief executive's prerogative to launch a personal counter-libel action to protect his reputation."

Which could be read as, 'Nobody, neither Mark James nor his house-trained councillors, did anything wrong'.

I appreciate that Plaid is trying to be diplomatic in order to resolve this issue but could end up making Mark James look like a generous, wronged, but forgiving man.

Anonymous said...

I note with interest that it is Plaid Councillors trying to bring a degree of common sense and fairness to the table. Do I take it that all the Independent and Labour Councillors would follow through with their original actions to the bitter end ?

Sian Caiach said...

I am quite surprised at this refusal to take the Plaid motion which after all is quite mild and vague about the end result as well as being careful to justify the decision to fund the counter claim - Mr James' libel action.

I put in a different but related question last month [November] which was supposedly rejected by the chair Eryl Morgan. I talked to him aterwards to ask about his decision, although to be fair it was the head of legal who actually informed me by email:=

"The Chair of Council has asked me to write to you to explain that he has not agreed to your Question being put on the Agenda for next week’s County Council meeting. His reason for this is that Standing Orders expect a Question to relate to matters which the Council has powers or duties on (CPR 11.2). Your question is to do with the enforcement of an Order for Damages awarded by the High Court to Mark James personally, and the subject matter of your question therefore belongs to that personal litigation, which the Council cannot dictate or influence"

Eryl was aware of the rejection but didn't really have a clue as to why he was asked to reject the question.He did suggest his personal charities for his year as chair could benefit from the damages if mark did donate them to charity but I think he was quite confused about the whole affair. A lot of people claim that the Councillors do not control the Council and this farce absolutely confirms it.

I have personally written to Mr Mark James asking for an explanation of the apparent conflict between his promise to return his damages to the Council in the meeting where he was given his legal funding and the later promise to give it all to charity. No reply as yet.

Gary Jones said...

I to hope common sense will prevail,and applaud any Councillor who supports this.

Anonymous said...

re your update 8 December - did anyone really expect anything different? This is par for the course: no way is a tin-pot little dictator going to allow any discussion.

Ken Haylock said...

So it literally cannot be a contempt of court because this is a civil proceeding not a criminal one. They are just making s**t up to deny the democratically elected councillors any chance to weigh in on the personal agenda of the council's chief executive.

Is there any way this can be challenged, or does the Chief Executive get to enact his personal agenda across Carmarthenshire unhindered by any democratic scrutiny or rule of law?

Tessa said...

Who would they expect to bring the "contempt of court" action, anyway?

Anonymous said...

Perhaps someone with the appropriate legal knowledge of the law relating to the Contempt of Court could be asked to make comment in a totally impartial way as to the views as expressed by the Council's head of law.Only a person with such legal knowledge could verify the true legalities of this most unfortunate set of circumstances. Far too often we hear that those who dare to comment or criticise are threatened with severe sanctions and as such are facing intimidation by threats to silence them.

Anonymous said...

It's 'par for the course' from this little dictator who rules over practically every department in our council. He has managed to silence all of his critics in one way or another through threats of legal action in the case of Cll. Thomas to gagging orders and in the case of Jacqui, total ruin. When are Ministers going to step in to protect the taxpayers of Carmarthenshire against a tyrant. Cll. Lenny and Cll. Campbell are well respected, as is Cll. Caiach, attempting to bring democracy back into our council. If Mark James's disgraceful behaviour towards our councillors isn't enough to warrant a thorough investigation into this man, then we most certainly have a council out of control and questions must be asked of Ministers now.