Monday, 9 July 2012

Helen Michael Police investigation - Head of Barnet legal claims Brunswick Park leaflet legal

Dear Mr. Tichborne,

There were reasonable grounds for the Returning Officer to conclude that the poster which was referred to the Police was in breach of election law. There were no grounds for concluding that the “Brunswick Park Ward” leaflet was in breach of election law or any law.

I have already referred to the responsibilities of the Returning Officer in circumstances where he believes that election law regarding the publication of election material has been contravened. The Council has no locus in this matter and would not pursue “a case” in any circumstances. The investigation is properly and exclusively in the hands of the Police.

The action taken by the Returning Officer was entirely consistent with the responsibilities I have referred to. If I had been Returning Officer, I would have taken the same action. The other matters you refer to are irrelevant. The Police will investigate and the investigation, including whatever ensues as consequence of that investigation, will be entirely without influence from the Returning Officer.

Yours sincerely,

Jeff Lustig
Director of Corporate Governance
Today I received this response from Jeff Lustig, Head of Barnet Council corporate governance, in response to a question I asked concerning the Brunswick Park Conservatives leaflet.

I reviewed the response from Nick Walkley regarding the Brunswick Park breach on the Barnet Bugle website. It seems that careful reading is required.

The Returning Officer’s concerns with the leaflet related to the following statement.
“Following a successful campaign by your local Conservatives, parking will remain free at the Ward’s two car parks”No such decision had been published by the Council on this matter and, as that is the only decision which can be relevant for these purposes, the statement was incorrect. In that regard, he requested that no further leaflets were distributed, or otherwise published, incorporating this particular statement or any other which might convey or imply that the Council has confirmed a decision in relation to free parking at the car parks in the ward.
The concern was that a wrong perception may arise that the Council has assisted others with regard to publicity and, as such, acted contrary to the law regarding local authority publicity during the “purdah” period.
It appears from careful reading of the response that it is perfectly legal to publish a highly misleading leaflet, which is stuffed full of porkies. The only reason the council asked for the leaflet to be withdrawn was not because it contained porkies, but because those porkies put Barnet Council in a dodgy position.

So to summarise, you can tell whatever porkies you like in an election leaflet, so long as they don't drop the council in it. If however you forget to put your name and address on or make any other minor breach of the law, they will immediately notify the police, no matter how ridiculous this may be.

At least we know what Mr Lustig sees the role of corporate governance to be. Thanks to Mr Lustig for clarifying the situation


Mrs Angry said...

what a ridiculous situation ... if election law cannot cover the type of 'incorrect' statement as made in the Brunswick Park case, then the law is inadequate.

Morris Hickey said...

......and the band played "Believe it if you like"!

Don't Call Me Dave said...

There are a number of issues raised by Mr Lustig’s response.

First, the fact that he replied proves that he is at his desk! DCMD wrote to him over the weekend asking him to state which section of which Act of Parliament compelled Non-Stick Nick to refer the Helen Michael case to the Police. He has yet to receive a reply.

In his original letter, Mr Lustig said “…if it appears to the Returning Officer that election law regarding the publication of election material has been contravened, then he is required to pass the matter to the Police.” (emphasis added).

If that is true, then why does Mr Lustig not simply direct DCMD to the appropriate legalisation? He must know what it is, otherwise how could he have written the above sentence?

In his latest letter he says “If I had been Returning Officer, I would have taken the same action.” If it was compulsory to report the matter to the Police (as Mr Lustig previously implied) then this sentence makes no sense. Mr Lustig is saying he would have taken the same action if faced with the same situation. This implies a degree of discretion. This is the crucial aspect. Did Nick Walkley report Helen Michael to the Police because he had no choice, or was it a voluntary decision on his part?

Mr Lustig also claims that there were no grounds for believing that the Brunswick Park leaflet was “in breach of election law or any law.” Councillors now receive a minimum basic allowance of £10,597. It is arguable, therefore, that by publishing a false statement with the intention of procuring sufficient votes to win the contest, the Conservative Party and/or candidate sought to gain a pecuniary advantage by deception. If Mr Lustig would care to look that up in his “I-Spy” book of the law, I think he will find that it is, indeed, an offence.

baarnett said...

I find it extraordinary that Jeff (since Bob Diamond's evidence, I call everyone by their first name) uses the phrase:
"If I had been Returning Officer, I would have taken the same action."

Is he going to say this over every quasi-legal ruling he gives, from now on? Why does he find it necessary to reassure the criticised Returning Officer with Jeff's comfort blanket? Does that apply to all Officers?

"If I had been in charge of the Authority's reserves, and there was a too-good-to-be-true offer from Iceland, I would have taken the same action."

"If I were paying for Aerodrome Road's new railway bridges, and the cost was spiralling out of control, I would have taken the same action."

"If I were grossly overspending in refurbishing Hendon Town Hall and installing a microphone system that even Mike (Freer) couln't work properly, I would have taken the same action."

"If I were paying a dodgy security company for years in used fivers without any contract, I would have taken the same action."

I am so disappointed in Jeff.

He memorably completely lost his rag at everyone, when in charge of a Residents Forum in Avenue House, Finchley, during the AllowanceGate debacle, but we thought he had been rehabilitated. Clearly there is still something wrong on Planet Lustig.