Home > News > Local Councillor Defends Right to Free Speech

Following a two-day hearing before the North Kesteven District Council’s Standards Committee on 27 – 28 July 2021, the Committee has largely dismissed a complaint – against Cllr Marianne Overton MBE – alleging breaches of the Code of Conduct for Members of North Kesteven District Council. The Committee upheld the complaint in respect of one sentence of a six-page newsletter published on 5 May 2020.

This was a complaint brought by the Leader of the Council against the Leader of the Opposition following Cllr Mrs Overton’s publication of the newsletter. An independent investigation dismissed the complaint in so far as it pertained to five sections of that newsletter but formed the view that there were breaches of the Code of Conduct in respect of one section.

In considering that section, the Committee recognised that it contained political speech, which was entitled to enhanced protection pursuant to Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Further, it accepted these were statements of fact expressed in good faith, in which Cllr Mrs Overton had an honest belief for which there was a reasonable factual basis. Contrary to the complaint and the findings of the independent investigation, the Committee determined that this section was directed at elected members, not officers.

Having upheld a breach of the Code of Conduct in respect of that one sentence, the Committee decided the only appropriate sanction was a limited one: that the Committee Chairman will make a report to the next Full Council on the findings of the Committee.

Local coverage of the hearing can be found here.

Joel Semakula acted for Cllr Mrs Overton, instructed by Simon Bell of Knights Solicitors.

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