Council to set aside £15k for legal fees?

Sleaford Town Council. EMN-180220-151137001
Sleaford Town Council. EMN-180220-151137001

Sleaford Town Councillors may be advised to set aside a sum of up to £15,000 to cover legal fees for a possible judicial review.

A claim for a judicial review has been lodged by former town councillors Jan Brealeycook and Paul Coyne challenging the current interpretation of local government law whereby co-opted councillors are not entitled to claim an allowance whereas their fully elected colleagues are eligible.

According to a report to members by clerk to the Town Council Kevin Martin, the council and the Department for Housing, Communities and Local Government are being invited to defend against the claim and a High Court judge will consider the matter at a hearing on March 19. The claim for the review will be heard and, if allowed, the claim will then be considered and determined on the same day. The council, seen as a supporter of the current interpretation of the disputed rule, would be required to have legal representation at the hearing, explained Mr Martin, who says a sum of £15,000 should be set aside from reserves to cover fees.

Mr Martin has since told The Standard that it is unlikely the £15,000 figure will be required.

He said: “It is the law itself that is being challenged more than any decision taken by this council. It is a legal issue for the Government to defend and resolve if the judge so decides that it is not legal.

“It is not for Sleaford Town Council to say whether the law is right or not; we are obliged to follow it.

“Council has already stated that if we are instructed to pay the basic allowance to our co-opted councillors we will happily do so.”

Mr Coyne told The Standard: “When applying for permission to seek a judicial review we opted to let the court deal with the matter without a hearing so that the call on court time and the associated costs could be kept to a minimum.”

He is concerned that more public money may now be spent on legal costs rather than purely seeking to clarify the true legal interpretation.

He said: “An integral part of the matter under review is the principal as to the inequality where two councillors can have exactly the same duties, responsibilities and accountability to the public they serve, but that one of them is expected to conduct those duties, fulfil those responsibilities and accept accountability with absolutely no recompense for their out of pocket expenses, whereas the other is paid for them.”