Cardiff Bay query use of public funds in libel case

First published in News

DOUBT has been cast over the legality of Carmarthenshire County Council’s decision to use taxpayers’ money to pay its chief executive’s legal costs in his ongoing libel case.

CE Mark James today appeared in London’s Royal Courts of Justice where he and Llanwrda resident and online blogger Jacqui Thompson are suing and counter-suing one another for libel over comments both have posted on the internet.

MrJames’ costs have been “indemnified” by the local authority after a controversial decision four years ago when the council rewrote its own constitution.

The move means public funds will be used to cover his Mr James’ costs.

Carmarthenshire is believed to be the only UK authority to have inserted such a clause in its constitution, but the Welsh Government has questioned its legality.

“A [Welsh Government] order was made in 2006 which prohibited local authorities from granting indemnities in defamation cases,” said a spokesman.

“That covers all local authorities in Wales. It is therefore up to all councils to satisfy themselves and others that their actions are lawful in light of that.”

Plaid’s Rhodri Glyn Thomas AM and MP Jonathan Edwards have questioned the council’s decision in light of this ruling.

A council spokesman said the authority’s executive board had resolved to cover Mr James’ legal costs because of “the exceptional circumstances involved”.

The spokesman added: “It has been made clear previously the officer was indemnified under section 111 of the Local Government Act 1972 and criteria established in case lawin relation to section 111, not the 2006 order which the AM and MP are suggesting.

“It should be understood this is not about stifling the public from criticising or debating actions taken by the council but funding an officer to bring proceedings in relation to defamation of him personally and professionally.

“As the case is in court this week it would be hardly seem appropriate to interfere with this process now.”

However, the council has not made clear the “exceptional circumstances” .

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