Wednesday 19 November 2014

A question of costs

Back in February this year, the Policy and Resources Scrutiny Committee requested a full breakdown of external legal costs incurred by the council and the report is finally before the committee next week. It can be read in full, along with the breakdowns, on the published agenda here (Item 5).

The cost and details of the advice are divided into two appendices with 'A' covering 1st April 2013 to 31st March 2014, and 'B' from the 1st April 2014 until 1st October 2014.

Most cases, as you would expect, concern child protection and social care issues, the only instructions made directly by legal services, headed by Linda Rees Jones who has been 'acting' since 2011 involve the libel case and the payments to Tim Kerr QC.

I was particularly interested in the various payments made to Slater and Gordon, the solicitors instructed to act for Mr James and the council throughout the libel case. Including the unlawfully funded counterclaim.

As the main trial had concluded in February 2013, the majority of the costs were, of course, incurred prior to the dates covered by this scrutiny report.

What I find curious is that a payment of £3208 was made between April and October of this year for 'Advice regarding defence of defamation claim', a 'Continuation of previous instructions given in 2011'.(Appendix B)

The last unlawful payment, £3209.08, in relation to the counterclaim was made on behalf of Mr James in December 2013, following the findings of the Wales Audit Office. This appears in Appendix A.

The only point which remained the subject of consideration by the Court of Appeal, and heard on 30th April this year, was exclusively in relation to the counterclaim for which, I was informed, Mr James had directly instructed his barrister and, as the indemnity had been withdrawn, was funding it himself, around £3000 I understand. A costs order was made against me.

By April 2014, as far as I knew, there were no issues relating to the claim left in the proceedings, and hadn't been for several months...

Oh, and by the way, unless Carmarthenshire council is now dealing exclusively in US dollars, can someone in County Hall please locate the £ button?

Also submerged deep in the agenda are updates on the progress of the review into Press and Media Protocol and also the Email Usage and Monitoring Policy. The former was first called for following the South Wales Guardian 'blacklisting' scandal in 2012 (amongst numerous other things) and the latter after it emerged that senior officers were snooping on Cllr Caiach's emails prior, and possibly during, the libel case, way back last year.

According to the agenda, these might be completed by the spring 2015. To say some things move slowly is an understatement but maybe the WLGA report will hurry things along, I doubt it though.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Curious is a polite way of putting it! Perhaps the WAO can investigate and provide clarity.