A DECISION to ban a county councillor for two-and-a-half years was “totally disproportionate”, the High Court was told.
In his second day of submissions barrister Mark Henderson, for Cllr Patrick Heesom of Mostyn, said if it was felt a sanction was required so long after the behaviour complained of, it was disproportionate to what was alleged.
Cllr Heesom has taken the Public Service Ombudsman for Wales to the administrative court of the Queen’s Bench Division to challenge the decision to disqualify him from sitting as a councillor for 30 months.
He claims it is an important principle as it interferes with his freedom of expression as an elected representative.
Cllr Heesom represented Mostyn on Flintshire Council for more than 20 years and was described as a “24/7 councillor”.
But a tribunal panel last summer found him guilty of 14 breaches of the councillors’ code of conduct.
The former leader of the council’s group of independent councillors claims the decision was flawed and breached his Article 10 human rights for free speech and political expression.
The appeal hearing before Mr Justice Hickinbottom, sitting at Mold, was told yesterday that since the decision last summer he had ceased to represent his ward.
No by-election could be held until the appeal was completed and the people of Mostyn had been deprived of representation.
The panel gave no explanation why it was necessary to impose such a long disqualification when it was a “first offence” after decades of service, Mr Henderson said.
He had continued to act as a councillor representing his constituents for more than four years without further issues arising.
It was argued the panel failed to have proper regard to Cllr Heesom’s record before and after the complaint.
The panel found Cllr Heesom had made a number of threats to council officers; attempted to coerce officers; sought to involve himself in housing allocation decisions in respect of his constituents contrary to statutory provisions; acted in an intimidating and aggressive manner towards officers; harassed one officer and adopted bullying behaviour towards three officers.
But Mr Henderson said legal advice circulated to local authorities said common law did not afford councils the ability to issue sanctions that interfered with local democracy.
The panel had failed to consider consistency between decisions and had imposed a disqualification which was twice as long as had previously been imposed in other cases which involved convictions for violence and dishonesty.
It failed to consider a temporary suspension, he said.
If it felt a sanction was needed in 2013, more than four years since the complaints were made, then a temporary suspension may have been more appropriate.
“This was a disproportionate interference with his freedom of expression, especially in the context of the highest standard of protection that applies to the political expression of any elected representative,” he said.
Mr Henderson said even after the complaints had been made, Cllr Heesom had been re-elected as his ward’s choice of representative.
The Ombudsman had claimed the electorate was not a good policeman and cited the re-election of MPs after the expenses scandal.
But Mr Henderson said such a justification for over-riding the will of the electorate was wrong and contrary to the principles of his rights to free speech as the elected member.
Mr James Maurici QC, representing the Public Service Ombudsman for Wales, is expected to start his submissions today.