Nelson says: "In some circumstances councillors are liable"



I visited the High Court Library last year (2003).  A very helpful librarian pointed me to the Atkin's Forms volumes 2002 issue.  In volume 32 (Environment & Public Health) section 23, the book sets out the law as to protection of authorities and officers, which I reproduce below:-


"  23. Protection of authorities and officers.

Subject to a proviso concerning "surcharges", the Public health Act 1875 provides that a local authority or one of its members or officers, or any other person acting under the direction of the authority, is exempt from any personal liability for any matter or thing done or for any contract entered into, provided the matter or thing done or the contract was entered into bona fide for the purpose of executing that Act.  Subsequent Public Health and related Acts, including the Building Act 1984, have incorporated the same or similar provision for the purposes of those respective Acts.  This qualified protection is extended further by the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 to embrace all local authorities (as there defined) Act for the purpose of all general and private Acts.


Nothing done by, or by a member of, a local authority or by any officer or other person authorised by a local authority by a local authority will, if done in good faith for the purpose of executing Part III of the Environment Protection Act 1990, subject them or any of them personally to any action, liability, claim or demand whatsoever other than the risk of surcharges.


A "designated person" exercising powers of entry etc pursuant to the Environment Act 1995 is not liable in any civil or criminal proceedings for anything done in the purported exercise of any relevant power if the court is satisfied that the act was done in good faith and that there were reasonable grounds for doing it.


It may be that these various exemptions will not apply to cases of negligence.  "


If you ask any officer or councillor if they consider themselves to be immune, they will quite happily answer in the affirmative.  Indeed, most council solicitors advise their members that they have nothing to worry about.  For this reason council's often embark on major exercises of fraud or deception - and never admit to anything - until it's too late.  


However, according to Atkins Forms, the actual position is not so clear cut.  If a member or officer knows of wrongdoing, or a cover up, by keeping silent, they become party to the offence and culpable, hence liable - even if they didn't actually hide the facts themselves, doctor documents, give false testimony or acted negligently.  By condoning the impropriety of others they are equally to blame.


So, if you are an officer or a member of a council and suspect something is amiss, don't just look the other way.  The law holds that failing to make reasonable enquiries, because one is afraid of what may be discovered, is itself an act of negligence.  Corrupt officers will insist members should take their advice.  If you are given this advice, it's time to start worrying.