A FORMER Flintshire councillor is challenging the UK government for breaching his human rights.
Patrick Heesom, the former member for Mostyn, will ask the European Court of Human Rights to overturn his ban from office.
Mr Heesom was disqualified from holding public office for two-and-a-half years (lessened on appeal to 18 months) after being found guilty of bullying behaviour against senior council officers.
Mr Heesom’s barristers, who previously said the councillor did nothing more than argue forcefully on behalf of his constituents, are now preparing to submit an appeal his solicitor says “goes to the heart of the most important issues in democracy - the rights of elected representatives to speak freely and speak freely”.
In July last year, the Adjudication Panel for Wales found Mr Heesom guilty of 14 breaches of the code of conduct over a two-year period, involving nine different sets of circumstances. Evidence he bullied Susan Lewis, the local authority’s former director of community services, was accepted by the panel.
A High Court appeal quashed three of those breaches and reduced Mr Heesom’s ban by 12 months.
But the judgment handed down by Mr Justice Hinkinbottom at the Royal Courts of Justice did not overturn the disqualification and this week a by-election will be held to fill the vacant seat in Mostyn.
Mr Heesom’s solicitor Kieran O’Rourke said the fundamental point in the case was Mr Heesom’s right of free speech and the ability of the High Court, the Adjudication Panel of Wales and the Ombudsman to remove a democratically-elected representative from his electorate based on a dispute between individuals of the council.
In England, councillors cannot be similarly removed for what are non-criminal matters, Mr O’Rourke said.
He said in the High Court appeal, the judge could not look at matters the Adjudication Panel had raised as fact – only on points of law.
“The High Court could not look at the political aspects,” he said.
“The European Court will look at everything because it’s not tied to observing the constitutional niceties of the UK.”
Mr O’Rourke said not only Mr Heesom’s rights would be considered but also those whose democratically-elected representative had been removed.
“It will be a ground-breaking case,” he said, “which goes to the most important issues in democracy - the rights of elected representatives to speak freely and the extent to which an elected representative can be removed for mere words. That’s what it was. No one was punched. No one stole anything. It was what Mr Heesom has described as ‘robust criticism’ of senior council officers who get paid well to do their jobs.”
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