I was found not guilty on 5 of the 6 alleged breaches of the code yesterday. Rather than repeat things, here is what Cllr Freeman from Helensburgh sent to all councillors followed by my reply. I copied in the 4 complainants and the press.
From: Freeman, George
Sent: 20 October 2016 10:15
To: #All Councillors
Subject: Councillor Mike Breslin hails victory in landmark free speech case [NOT PROTECTIVELY MARKED]
Classification: NOT PROTECTIVELY MARKED
All councillors will be well aware of the complaints that were lodged with the Standards Commission against Cllr Michael Breslin that he has been vigorously fighting for some time now. This ended up at a final hearing in Edinburgh yesterday.
I have been passed the link above that will take you to a report on the result in The National. Although full details have not yet been published by the Commission, you will note that 5 of the 6 complaints have been thrown out. My understanding is that one minor complaint was upheld which has resulted in a rap across the knuckles / warning / censure or however the Commission want to put it.
Anyone who understands this ruling will realise that it has major implications for all councillors and on what we can now say and do and will be welcomed by all fair minded people who believe in free speech. This will remove a great deal of the fear that councillors operated under up until now. Whereas many councillors were concerned about speaking out on issues, to a great extent, that fear has now been removed by the clarification that the case against Cllr Breslin has provided for all councillors. A good day for democracy.
Thanks George. I am more than happy that you got in before me. I am copying in the 4 complainants so that they know nothing is being said behind their backs.
This, as The National states, is a landmark ruling. The enhanced protection given to an elected politician is founded in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and in subsequent case law. Most of the case law has been well known for years so quite why this complaint was issued by the then 4 most senior officers is a mystery. I would have thought our award winning legal department might have advised extreme caution, but there you go.
Every public body in the UK was given clear guidance by the UK Ministry of Justice in 2006 that it is every public body’s duty to take into account rights under ECHR in their “day-to-day” work. That is the case whatever the public body is doing, even when it is complaining about a councillor. However, you all need to know that the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life, Mr Bill Thomson, also ignored ECHR in my view.
I have written to him today making clear that I consider he ignored ECHR throughout the investigation and in his reports. Worse, when my solicitor sent him a detailed ECHR argument in June this year, Mr Thomson wrote back the same day rejecting the argument without saying why. I have said to Mr Thomson today I consider that he and his staff were negligent in ignoring ECHR and I have said I will be pursuing compensation and an apology.
The press statement attributed to this council in the article in The National is rather mean spirited, focussing on the one breach of the code. As George said, it was minor but it’s also not easily understood so I await the written judgement because I will, most likely, appeal this to the Sheriff Principal.
Mr Thomson considered 15 potential breaches of the code in the complaint that was made. He dismissed 9 of them and found a breach, in his view, in 6 instances. Yesterday only one of these was found to be a breach. That’s a success rate of 1 out of 15 or just under 7%.
I will circulate the written judgement when I get it. ECHR does not mean you can say what you like but it does mean we are all free to ask questions, even hard questions, of officers when the need arises. This is very well expressed in The National’s article.
I made it very clear to the commissioners that while 4 officers put their names to the complaint, it was probably at the behest of Cllr Walsh and perhaps others. I also said it was inconceivable that even if Cllr Walsh wasn’t behind it, it would never have been sent without his approval. I think this is an eminently sound reason for Cllr Walsh to resign forthwith.
Thanks to those of you who supported me in this. I very much appreciate it.
I will be writing separately to the four complainants in due course.