Local Authority Chief Legal Officer Consultation
The Law Society and Solicitors in Government have set out for consultation proposals calling for legislation requiring each local authority to appoint a Chief Legal Officer (CLO). The CLO would hold a legal qualification and carry out the duties of the current local authority Monitoring Officer (MO) to report any illegality, maladministration and to investigate any misconduct by councillors. There is no requirement for a MO to be legally qualified.
Local authorities are creatures of statute. To this end, they must comply and stay within the legislative framework in which they operate. Local Authorities can be held accountable by:
- the inherent jurisdiction of the High Count;
- Local Government Ombudsman; and by the
- National Code of Conduct and Guidance from the Standards Board for England ( applies to individual Members).
At present, only the MO has responsibility for ensuring the local authority complies with the above three important and overlapping jurisdictions. The MO must report to the local authority any contravention of the law, or any maladministration or injustice. S/he must investigate any allegations of misconduct by local councillors if requested to do so by the Standards Committee of their local authority.
Monitoring Officers often have to form a view as to whether the actions of their local authority have been in accordance with the law and the principles of good governance. These decisions often need to be reached having regard to the local political agenda of the local authority and its priorities in light of any local community plan. What is crucial, however, is that a MO is able to exercise fine legal judgement in such circumstances and stand by the judgement in a robust way.
The consultation proposes the following:
- Replacing Monitoring Officers with a CLO who would be regulated by either the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) Bar Council (BC) or the Institute of Legal Executives (ILEX);
- CLO being able to demonstrate the highest ethical standards to secure public confidence; and
- The CLO to be technically competent legally.
In short, ILEX welcomes the proposals. We are of the view that replacing the MO with a CLO regulated either by ILEX, the SRA or the BC would be in the public interest.
The consultation closes on 27th March 2007.
ILEX would like to encourage members to respond to this consultation.