North Tyneside Metropolitan Borough Council told a man he was barred from Council meetings without considering all the relevant factors.
The Ombudsman said: “The maladministration would not have occurred if the officers involved had considered and applied the established public law principles for administrative decision making, and I recommend that these should be brought to the attention of all appropriate officers.”
The law says that council meetings must be open to the public unless confidential or certain other information is to be discussed. Councils have the power to exclude someone from a meeting to suppress or prevent disorderly conduct.
‘Mr H’ (real names are not used for legal reasons) has a fractious relationship with various representatives of the Council. His written communications were characterised by extravagantly unpleasant allegations of improper motives and conspiracies. The Council limited his access to its offices and his contact with staff.
A council officer subsequently told Mr H that:
- he was ‘barred’ from attending meetings of the Council, its committees, subcommittees and panels, and
- if Mr H attempted to attend any meetings, Council staff would call the police to have him removed and would begin proceedings to get an injunction against him.
The Ombudsman investigated Mr H's complaint about that decision.
The investigation found that the officer did not have the authority to make the decision and had not properly considered all relevant factors, including Mr H's statutory right to attend meetings, the case law on excluding someone to prevent disorder and whether barring Mr H was a reasonable and proportionate response to the circumstances. The Council had, therefore, acted with maladministration in telling Mr H that he was 'barred' from attending meetings.
Although Mr H had in fact attended a meeting, the Ombudsman considered that the Council's threat to call the police and begin legal proceedings caused Mr H stress and anxiety.
The Ombudsman found maladministration causing injustice. In considering a remedy for that injustice, she said: “Taking account of all the circumstances and the malevolence which Mr H shows towards some representatives of the Council, I consider that the appropriate remedy is for the Council to consider this report and issue an apology to Mr H for:
- communicating to him the decision that had not been properly considered and had been taken by someone who did not have authority to do so, and
- any anxiety caused to him by the threat to call the police and seek an injunction if he tried to attend a meeting.”
The Ombudsman also recommended that appropriate Council staff should be apprised of the public's rights to attend meetings and of the established public law principles for administrative decision making.
LGO satisfied with Council's response: 20 October 2010