Portsmouth City Council has spent £25,000 hiring a QC to determine if Cllr Mike Hancock, a Lib Dem councillor, has broken the Council's code of conduct. Cllr Hancock is also an MP but has resigned the Lib Dem whip due to a civil court case where he faces allegations of sexual assault.
The principle of being innocent until proven guilty is important to remember in these cases. That still leaves the consideration of whether those in public office should expect to carry on as normal until the verdict. I don't think it is an easy one. Yet in Cllr Hancock's case the record of misconduct is considerable. Where is the logic in him being allowed to retain the Lib Dem whip in Portsmouth City Council but not in the House of Commons?
Not only that, but Cllr Hancock retains the portfolio of the Council's Cabinet Member for Planning, Regeneration and Economic Development.
Cllr Hancock has refused to answer questions from his own council's investigation on the grounds that a court case is pending. Surely under the circumstances there would be more suitable choices for Cabinet Member for Planning, Regeneration and Economic Development, at least until after the court case?
However, we shouldn't need a code of conduct, standards committee, or £25,000 legal bill to decide any of this. The council leader Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson chooses his cabinet. If the Lib Dem councillors don't like it they can elect another leader. If the electors of Portsmouth are not satisfied they can throw out the Lib Dems.
If a councillor is sent to prison they are removed from office regardless of any standards committee. That seems reasonable. But otherwise the voters in their ward should be allowed to decide if their conduct was acceptable or not.
The council says that it had to spend all this money on legal fees investigating Cllr Hancock as if they had waited for the court case they might have been subject to a Judicial Review. That sounds pretty ludicrous. I suspect the risk of a Judicial Review was not proportionate to justify spending £25,000. In any event all the more reason to cease taxpayer funding for them.