COUNCILLOR DISQUALIFIED FOR THREE YEARS
At a reconvened Adjudication Hearing held on behalf of the Northern Ireland Local Government Commissioner for Standards in Downshire Civic Centre on Thursday 20th October 2016, the Acting Commissioner Mr Ian A Gordon OBE having previously concluded that Newry, Mourne and Downpatrick District Councillor Patrick Clarke had breached the Councillors’ Code of Conduct, imposed a sanction on him of disqualification for a period of three years for being, or becoming a councillor.
At the initial Adjudication Hearing held on 29th September 2016 the Acting Commissioner found that the Councillor’s Code of Conduct applied to the Respondent and accepted the Respondent’s admission that he had failed to comply with the following parts of the Code –
- Paragraph 4.1a of the Code: The Respondent holds public office under the law and he must act lawfully
- The Public Duty Principle: He had a duty to uphold the law and to act on all occasions in accordance with the public trust placed in him
- Paragraph 2.7 of the Code: He had to observe the Code when giving the impression he was acting in the role of a councillor; and
- Paragraph 4.2 of the Code: He conducted himself in a way which could reasonably be regarded as bringing his position as a councillor, or his council, into disrepute.
Councillor Clarke had pleaded guilty to and was convicted of the following criminal offences:
- On 14 September 2015 – Article 7(1) Sexual Offences Northern Ireland) Order 2008 and on 15 October 2015 was sentenced to a probation order for 10 months and pay compensation of £200.00
- On 12 November 2015 – Sec. 4 Fraud Act 2006 and on 24 March 2016 sentenced to 7 months’ imprisonment to be suspended for 3yrs
- On 12 November 2015 – Article 3(1) Criminal Damage Northern Ireland) Order 1977 on 24 March 2016 sentenced to 7 months’ imprisonment to be suspended for 3yrs
- On 12 November 2015 – Section 93 Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 2011 on 24 March 2016 sentenced to 7 months’ imprisonment to be suspended for 3yrs
In announcing his decision to impose the sanction of disqualification, the Acting Commissioner said –
“The allegations against Councillor Clarke are serious, the relevant criminal offences were committed over a period of time beginning some three months following him signing the declaration that he would observe the Code of Conduct for Councillors. The conduct displayed by the Respondent demonstrates a disregard for the Code to the extent that censure would not be an appropriate sanction.
A significant element of his conduct involves bringing his office as a councillor and that of his council into disrepute. The consequences of his actions demonstrate a significant disregard for the Code. They occurred over a period of time during which he does not appear to have shown any insight into those consequences. For that reason, I do not consider suspension to be an appropriate sanction.
There has been a repeated failure by Councillor Clarke to conform to the Code which is in place to meet the high standards of behaviour expected from elected Councillors. Poor conduct, such as displayed by the Respondent: “undermines the critical trust between the public and the people they elect. This relationship of trust is essential if public confidence in local government and the democratic process is to be maintained”.
It follows that given the serious nature of the misconduct and the lack of reflection or insight on the part of Councillor Clarke is such as to render him unfit for public office” said the Acting Commissioner.
The sanction of disqualification is imposed on Councillor Clarke will immediate effect.
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