Postbag - Standards committee denial of human right
PUBLISHED: 11:32 03 February 2006 | UPDATED: 21:40 28 May 2010
I READ in your pages last week, that Fenland District Council's standards committee is to take over the investigation of complaints from the Standards Board of England. I have attended the last four meetings of this district council committee (as a member
I READ in your pages last week, that Fenland District Council's standards committee is to take over the investigation of complaints from the Standards Board of England.I have attended the last four meetings of this district council committee (as a member of the public) and it is a very strange and ill-defined body.It is still not clear to me either who the members are, or how they come to be on the committee. There is no mechanism to allow the public to speak to the committee.In fact the committee believes that it is even forbidden to call witnesses with pertinent information to address members. It is a strange kind of justice.If magistrates are asked to hear cases that involve people they know, they withdraw from the bench.A councillor on the planning committee 'declares an interest' and withdraws rather than judge an application from a friend or business acquaintance. These rules are clearly defined and a councillor breaking them could find himself before the standards committee.But this does not apply to the standards committee itself. It is highly likely that members will find themselves sitting in judgement on friends, colleagues, or even political opponents. This hardly seems right.The chairman of the council, Councillor Pam Potts, made the pertinent suggestion that one committee (e.g. Fenland) swap cases with a neighbouring district (e.g. Huntingdon) to avoid this clear conflict of interests. But she was told that this was forbidden somewhere within a murky collection of ill-defined rules.Standards boards and committees were established to 'ensure propriety in public life' - a noble and worthwhile objective. They appear to have developed into a means for anybody to 'have a go' at councillors.Fair enough, councillors should be subject to scrutiny, but this reasonable requirement should not take away their human right to a fair trial.While the proposed committee structure ignores the basic principals of European and English justice, it can't be fair.CHRIS HOWESChatteris Town CouncillorPound RoadChatteris
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