Sunday, 13 January 2019

To sue or not to sue, that is the question…

Following on from my dismissal from the Navigation Committee last year, I've been encouraged by numerous friends and supporters to seek a judicial review of the decision.

Having received advice from a barrister that the Authority’s behaviour was “outrageous” and that there was an arguable case against them, my lawyers sent a pre-action letter to the BA.

Their response covered no new ground, and continued to focus on whether I’d breached the code of conduct, rather than on whether what I’d said was true. To quote their response:
“The Claimant's breach of the Code arises not from the fact that he has concerns about the performance and/or conduct of officers, nor whether those allegations are incorrect or correct …  the breach of the Code arises from the manner in which the Claimant made his allegations and the tone in which they were made.”
The public resources which have been expended on pursuing this complaint, instead of investigating the misleading of members, must be truly monstrous. And the sanction does seem to be somewhat draconian, if all they were worried about was my “manner and tone”.

However, I’ve decided not to pursue a judicial review - for the following reasons:
  • It will cost me a huge amount of money, which can’t all be recovered even when I win.
  • It will cost the public purse tens of thousands of pounds - which JP might even try to argue should come from navigation funds.
  • I would be playing on JP’s home turf - the courts - where he is happy spending other people’s money.
  • The whole process would be lengthy and drawn out, during which time any discussion would be considered “sub judice” - again playing into the hands of anyone who wants to prevent an investigation into the misleading of members.
  • The most that could be achieved would be a finding that the Broads Authority had acted procedurally unlawfully by removing me - setting aside the decision and asking them to revisit it.
  • The process could only decide whether the Authority broke the law by abusing its complaint procedures to remove me, and could not be used to determine whether officers misled members (wilfully or otherwise), which is - after all - what this should have been about.
Anyone is welcome to read the documents linked above and, if you have a really strong stomach and time on your hands, you can read the whole bundle of evidence. But, for those who have a life, here is a summary of some of the more grotesque abuses:
  • The Broads Authority continues to deny that members were misled, in spite of the testimony of its own solicitor who confirmed at the Broads Local Plan examination that officers were wrong to claim that the river bank moorings had been proven abandoned through the courts.
  • The Authority instigated a secret barrister’s investigation into my blog prior to any complaint being made and then withheld critical evidence from him.
  • Throughout the complaint process, I was prevented from giving any evidence to prove that members were misled.
  • The Authority ignored the advice of its own barrister to deal with the matter informally, and refused to meet me or discuss possible resolutions.
  • The Monitoring Officer covertly altered the complaints procedure, removing his ability to impose sanctions, to ensure that the matter had to proceed to a hearing.
  • After the complaint was determined, the Monitoring Officer quietly changed the procedure back again, re-establishing his previous abilities.
  • The preliminary hearing panel consisted entirely of members who had voted in favour of making the complaint against me.
  • One of the members of the hearing panel accused me of slandering the officers before she had even heard the evidence.
  • A resolution to remove me was presented to the full Authority without notice and without permitting any debate or questions.
  • The Authority has subsequently denied that it prevented a debate, at total variance with the facts.
Two MPs have referred this affair to DEFRA - who have, as usual, responded that they don’t get involved in the day to day running of the Broads Authority. Instead, they suggested that I complain to the Local Government Ombudsman - apparently unaware that the LGO cannot deal with “personnel” matters such as this. 

Sadly, all this does is provide further confirmation that the Broads Authority is an unaccountable and unscrutinised quango, out of control and out of touch with its stakeholders. There exists no means of bringing an allegation of maladministration or malfeasance against this body, and DEFRA continue to take the view that due process must have been followed, as long as members appear to have been involved in decisions.

The majority of members, however, seem to have scant regard for the public interest, and instead seem entirely focused on their duty to “show leadership by promoting public confidence in the Authority” - regardless of whether this means persecuting whistleblowers and covering up the truth.


  1. Hi James, I admire how yourself and Bill have stood up for yard owners etc over the years and feel we need to start some kind of southern broads business group to put pressure on to the BA and make them accountable, any thoughts?

    1. Well, anything that would make the BA accountable would be a good thing in my book, but unsure how a southern broads business group could do much in that direction. That said, there are many reasons why it's a good thing for businesses to work together. I'd better start by replying to your email :-)

  2. Not as many southern broads businesses as there used to be! This really just confirms the BA stinks. This utterly unaccountable body is going nowhere locally until they bin their CEO.

  3. James - I congratulate you on a clear and disciplined summary of your treatment by BA. The public have never, and under current management never will, receive a similarly complete and well reasoned explanation of BA's position on quasi-legal matters of this kind. Your decision not to proceed further is fully understood and I would take issue only with the statement that to proceed would be fighting on JP's home turf: Not so: JP is not a lawyer and has no understanding of and less regard for the principles of decent behaviour. He simply gets away with whatever he can. To me, the harm that is and has historically been worked on the broads environment is less shameful than the manner in which the authority eschews fairness and honesty in its proceedings: that is what does the real damage. Old Frank is right, this intolerable situation will go on until someone has the cojones to get rid of the man at the top!

  4. All agreed Mark. What I really meant is that he’s happiest spending other people’s money, in an arena where nobody can shine a spotlight. Whereas I like transparency and openness, and spending as little as possible in the process!