Honiton town council have to pay £29,000 legal costs after a Judge ruled that extra punishments issued on Cllr John Taylor were unlawful
A statement issued by Honiton Town Council reveals it faces legal costs of more than £29,000 after a Judicial Review to hear an action taken by Cllr John Taylor against it.
A High Court judge told the town council in January this year it was wrong to impose extra punishment on a councillor who had criticised its financial dealings over a £2million community centre.
But Mr Justice Edis agreed that East Devon District Council was right to rule that Honiton town councillor John Taylor had breached the code of conduct and recommend he got some training.
The case followed an investigation of a complaint by Honiton town clerk Chetna Jones after Cllr Taylor issued a statement accusing her of wrongdoing relating to the finances of the Beehive Community Centre in Honiton.
East Devon council ruled he had breached the councillors’ code of conduct by making the claims without any justification.
But Independent Cllr Taylor launched the legal action for a High Court judicial review of the extra measures imposed on him by Honiton Town Council.
As well as taking the action recommended by East Devon, the town council added a series of extra punishments – including a ban from speaking at meetings – which the judge decided were unlawful.
Mr Justice Edis has now released his ruling in terms of costs and a statement issued by Honiton Town Council confirms it will be left nearly £30,000 out of pocket.
The ruling says: “The defendant will pay the claimant’s costs of the proceedings on the standard basis to be assessed if not agreed in so far as those costs were incurred up to and including 19th March 2016.
“Following a review of costs Honiton Town Council’s total legal fees amounted to £64,245.14 excluding VAT.
“Negotiations with the claimant’s representatives in order to give effect to the costs’ judgement resulted in a payment of £35,000 from the claimant.
“The councils’ final net costs in the case were therefore £29,245.14.”
Mr Taylor had been a critic of the way Honiton council has handled the financing of the Beehive Community Centre, which includes a 300-seat auditorium and opened in April 2014.
In his judgment on the case, following the hearing in November 2016, Mr Justice Edis told how in January 2015 Mr Taylor issued a statement alleging a council decision to apply for a £98,000 loan to cover extra costs relating to the centre asked him “to conspire to break the law”.
After the statement was published in newspapers including as a letter in the Express & Echo, town clerk Chetna Jones claimed it accused her of behaving illegally, and complained to East Devon District Council, which oversees parish and town councils.
An investigation by an East Devon council officer concluded that the town clerk had acted properly and legally.
He decided Mr Taylor had made public claims of illegality and impropriety against the town clerk without reasonable justification. He concluded Mr Taylor had therefore breached the town council code of conduct clause which states: “You must treat others with courtesy and respect.”
East Devon council’s standards sub-committee considered the case and ruled Mr Taylor had breached the code of conduct by failing to treat the town clerk with respect.
The committee decided Honiton should censure him; publish the findings of the committee; and arrange training for Mr Taylor relating to the code of conduct.
Mr Justice Edis described how Honiton Town Council in October approved its own set of sanctions to automatically apply to a member found to have breached the council’s code of conduct.
They included losing the right to speak at council meetings; removal from committees and working groups; and restrictions on visiting the council offices.
Honiton council imposed the sanctions recommended by East Devon, and added its own as adopted in October 2015, but a judge ruled that the extra sanctions were unlawful.