Monday 1 October 2018

FOI Review, the Monitoring Officer and the declaration of interests

Last week I received the outcome of the internal review following the refusal, by the council, to disclose the officer's report to 'CRWG' on the subject of unlawful libel indemnities.

The unsurprising upshot of the 'review' being that the council are still, (despite all this arising from the WAO public interest report), refusing to release the CRWG report under Legal Advice Privilege. One of the reasons given against the disclosure of the report was, incredibly and hilariously, 'The significant public interest in the observance of law and the administration of justice'
My previous post concerning details of the request is here.

I have now appealed to the Information Commissioner.

Interestingly Mr Edgecombe (council solicitor who responds to FOI reviews) confirmed in his response, that Head of Law/Monitoring Officer, Linda Rees Jones was the author of the report to CRWG.

Ms Rees Jones
One can only wonder whether she declared any sort of interest given that she was a witness in the libel proceedings. It would, of course, be highly improper to declare such an interest several weeks after the meeting (and as we know with historic allegations against Mr James, tampering with documents is not allowed...)

It is a safe bet that both she and Mr James closely monitored the freedom of information request and, as I have said, it is they who are reluctant to disclose the report. Not only does Ms Rees Jones provide a legal rubber stamp for the chief executive's nefarious activities but owes her position as Monitoring Officer directly to his, erm, warm generosity, rather than the inconvenient formalities of Appointment Committee 'B'.

Ms Rees Jones was not just a witness for the council in the 2013 libel trial but also for Mark James and his unlawfully funded counterclaim. Her Witness Statement, of which I still have a copy, was concerned, incidentally, with an attempt to defend the thorny issue of libel indemnities and the constitution...

Mr James and Ms Rees Jones, High Court 2013 (Pic source @BrokenBarnet)

Ms Rees Jones has appeared to have forgotten this small matter of her being a witness over recent years, and whilst she has been keen to mention, as recently as last year to the Ombudsman in Mr James' failed complaint, that Sian Caiach, and Cneifiwr were witnesses for myself, her role in the proceedings is conveniently brushed over.

She will, no doubt, have an absurd and implausible get out of jail free card which, for reasons best known to her and Mr James, exempt her from having to make such a declaration. It was Ms Rees Jones who found absolutely nothing untoward with Mr James remaining in the Exec Board meeting, and not declaring any interest, when he was personally and unlawfully bankrolled for the counterclaim. The Appointed Auditor thought differently... Neither did she see anything wrong in 'informally' co-writing the report with Mr James, prior to the meeting, recommending his own indemnity.

You can guarantee that the report to CRWG was 'informally' co-written with Mr James in exactly the same way. Mr James was, I understand, not present at the CRWG meeting in July, well, not in body anyway. He didn't have to be, he was there in the dutiful spirit of Ms Rees Jones, and of course the now equally dutiful Cllr Dole.

The Members of CRWG should be made aware of Ms Rees Jones' interest, surely they are already aware of Mr James' direct involvement. If she has not declared an interest then CRWG should make a formal complaint.
Declaration or not, she shouldn't be advising on this matter full stop. It is quite remarkable.
If a letter is ever written to the WAO, as was decided at the CRWG meeting, then Ms Rees Jones and Mr James should definitely not be the ones to do it.

In fact the ability of Mark James and Ms Rees Jones to advise council on anything related to the issue of libel indemnities is completely compromised, and biased, by their own direct involvement.

Whilst the issue remains live it is in their personal and professional interests to ensure that no one challenges their unique view that they have done nothing wrong. From defrauding the public purse to manipulating councillors with misleading advice, from failing to declare interests to downright dishonesty, Mark James is the culprit but Ms Rees Jones is his taxpayer funded personal defence lawyer.

It was eminent lawyer and former lay member of the council's Audit Committee, Sir David Lewis, who described the council's internal legal advice in 2014 as 'cavalier' and incompetent', and not without good reason. This whole farce is a testament to that, and I, personally, would add the words 'deceitful' and 'unscrupulous' to the list.

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