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INSIDER - SMELLY DOGS AND PRESSURE GROUPS HOUND LEGAL OFFICERS

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Uncontrollable bodies...
Uncontrollable bodies

When it comes to the thorny issue of double devolution, most people seem to get sidetracked by trifling details such as how much the scheme is actually going to cost.

Therefore it's good to see members of the legal community are able to keep the bigger picture in mind.

One chief legal officer has mapped out some of the broader, constitutional issues associated with opening up the running of daily life to the great unwashed.

What code of conduct will unelected 'nominated representatives' be held to? Will councillors become mediators as local interest groups slug it out?

As his paper says, 'the government must think carefully before it devolves substantial amounts of money to non-elected and unrepresentative pressure groups or bodies that may, over time, become uncontrollable in the ethical and corporate sense'.

Left out in the cold

The perils awaiting local activists who do become councillors were laid out for all to see in the Lords.

Witness Alex Riley, long-time chair of Longstanton parish council who was elected to South Cambridgeshire DC as an independent to represent his village on the issue of large new town development planned to take place close by.

All well and good, except that according to rules laid out in the Local Government Act's code of conduct, Cllr Riley is judged to have personal and prejudicial interests when it comes to the very matters on which he stood for office.

He is now no longer permitted to attend any meeting where the development is mentioned and cannot seek to influence other councillors on the matter.

The Standards Board for England and the Committee on Standards in Public Life have urged the government to update the code of conduct and local government minister Phil Woolas has pledged to hold a review.

Votes for dogs

Last month's local elections meant plenty of work for legal officers. However, one council solicitor - in his role as returning officer - ended up dealing with issues that were somewhat below his station.

Summoned to a polling station at 7.30am to tackle a doubtless complex electoral issue, the solicitor arrived to find that the problem was in fact a large, perfectly friendly (if slightly smelly) dog that had settled down to watch democracy in action.

'There I am supposed to be dealing with problems of the most strategic nature and I'm reduced to trying to persuade a mongrel to go out of the front door,' the officer explained. 'He certainly seemed to be a fan of the extended polling hours.'

Views published anonymously. To join the legal Insider email:

daniel.drillsmamilgrom@emap.com

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