Joyce White, the Burgh Hall and Municipal Buildings and Cllr Jim Bollan

By Democrat reporter

The Standards Commission for Local Government in Scotland was sitting in the Municipal Buildings this morning (Monday) at 9.30am when, although this should be an open meeting, the press and public were be turned away.

The purpose of the meeting is to hear complaints lodged by West Dunbartonshire Council Chief Executive Joyce White against veteran councillor and Community Party stalwart Jim Bollan, who represents Alexandria South.

Initially, a total of 37 complaints against Cllr Bollan were lodged by the Council, but only two of these remain outstanding and will be dealt with at today’s hearing.

Most of these complaints were made during a period of ongoing bickering between the £130,000 a year Chief Executive and other officials – and the SNP administration.

Cllr Bollan was concerned about reports that the procurement procedure for contracts, some of them worth £1millions had fallen into  disuse at a time when senior officials were having champagne steak and special fish dinners with at least one contractor, who stood to gain large mounts of money if council contracts  were awarded to his now liquidated company based in Paisley. They did.

The contractor retired to the South of France and one senior official at least played golf with him on Loch Lomondside and visited him in France.

The new Covid-19 guidelines came into into force this morning, and this is being used to keep the press and public out.

We turned up at the Municipal Buildings around noon but were told there would be no access allowed for the public or the press.

There have been previous clashes between the public and press and council officials about attendance at council meetings and the inability to see or hear properly those participating  and what is going on in the space that is being used as a council chamber in the Burgh Hall in Dumbarton, which has cost more than £16 million to renovate,  and the Town Hall in Dumbarton.

Embarrassingly, some senior citizens who were interested to hear what was being decided in their name were caught up in a scuffle in the foyer of the Burgh Hall, which these days is being viewed by some as more like Belarus than Bonhill or Bellsmyre.

The Democrat has been banned from the press benches and deprived of council news releases because we wrote some unflattering words about Cllr Jonathan McColl, the Council leader.

Bill Heaney quietly told a press officer to “bugger off” when she and senior officers, whose cumulative salary amounts to more than £500,000, gathered menacingly around the editor and threatened to throw him out of a meeting when he complained about the dearth of facilities for the media.

On his first visit to the £16 million “showpiece” chamber, which is clearly unfit for purpose, he was offered a broken chair and nothing to take notes on.

Mr Heaney said: “Half a million pounds is a lot of public money to pay for bouncers. £16 million is a fortune for a chamber that is not fit for purpose.”

Ms White even ordered on another occasion that during a lengthy meeting, reporters should not be allowed a glass of water from the same jug as members of the Council.

Early today, the arrangements for the hearing were still unclear.

Members of the Community Party and other interested parties have plans to be at the hearing to show support for Cllr Bollan.

The sanctions which could be taken against Cllr Bollan include a ban which could suspend him for a significant period of time from representing the electorate in his Vale of Leven ward.

Jackie Baillie, the MSP for Dumbarton, Vale of Leven, Helensburgh and Lomond, had no additional  information on the matter. She told The Democrat: ” I am surprised that they haven’t postponed it or made it a virtual hearing.  Given the Covid-19 restrictions I am not sure that you will be allowed in to the building.”

Earlier today, Jim Bollan said: “I was surprised myself it was not a virtual hearing. One of 8 Constituents scheduled to attend asked me on 7.9.2020 if it was safe to go ahead.

“I checked with the Standards Commission and they said yes. I was then emailed by them on 10.9.2020 to tell me no observers from the public would be allowed because of the new Covid restrictions, but one observer from WDC would be allowed. No mention of the press not being allowed.”

Members of the public who wish to complain about West Dunbartonshire Council’s ongoing refusal to allow the press and public access to meetings should write to Joyce White, Chief Executive, West Dunbatonshire Council, 16 Church Street, Dumbarton.

Free speech

Click on the link above for Article 10 of the Human Rights law on Freedom of Expression.

Article 10: Freedom of expression

Article 10 protects your right to hold your own opinions and to express them freely without government interference.

This includes the right to express your views aloud (for example through public protest and demonstrations) or through:

  • published articles, books or leaflets
  • television or radio broadcasting
  • works of art
  • the internet and social media

The law also protects your freedom to receive information from other people by, for example, being part of an audience or reading a magazine.

Are there any restrictions to this right?

Although you have freedom of expression, you also have a duty to behave responsibly and to respect other people’s rights.

Public authorities may restrict this right if they can show that their action is lawful, necessary and proportionate in order to:

  • protect national security, territorial integrity (the borders of the state) or public safety
  • prevent disorder or crime
  • protect health or morals
  • protect the rights and reputations of other people
  • prevent the disclosure of information received in confidence
  • maintain the authority and impartiality of judges

An authority may be allowed to restrict your freedom of expression if, for example, you express views that encourage racial or religious hatred.

However, the relevant public authority must show that the restriction is ‘proportionate’, in other words that it is appropriate and no more than necessary to address the issue concerned.

Using this right – example

This right is particularly important for journalists and other people working in the media.

They must be free to criticise the government and our public institutions without fear of prosecution – this is a vital feature of a democratic society.

But that doesn’t prevent the state from imposing restrictions on the media in order to protect other human rights, such as a person’s right to respect for their private life.

What the law says

Article 10 of the Human Rights Act: Freedom of expression

1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This Article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.

2. The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.

Example case – Observer and The Guardian v United Kingdom [1991]

The Guardian and The Observer newspapers published excerpts from Peter Wright’s book Spycatcher, which included allegations that MI5 had acted unlawfully.

The government obtained a court order preventing the newspapers from printing further material until proceedings relating to a breach of confidence had finished.

But when the book was published, The Guardian complained that the continuation of the court order infringed the right to freedom of expression.

The European Court of Human Rights said that the court order was lawful because it was in the interests of national security.

However, it also said that that wasn’t enough reason to continue the newspaper publication ban once the book had been published, because the information was no longer confidential anyway.

This case summary is taken from ‘Human rights, human lives: a guide to the Human Rights Act for public authorities’.

Further resources

We have published a guide that explains the legal framework which protects freedom of expression and where that freedom may be restricted in order to prevent violence, abuse or discrimination.

One comment

  1. West Dunbartonshire Council, the best money can buy.

    Allegations of asking for contributions to give out licences, overpaying contractors with whom you wine and dine, using council materials for personal or private use. No you wouldn’t get any of that in WDC now, would you?

    And the in-camera council meetings, the refusal to release minutes, the delaying, deferring and when it suits, the illegal non disclosure of FOI requests, No, that wouldn’t be WDC either.

    And the Councillors, open and transparent, readily available, always willing to offer comment. Now that would be WDC.

    The Great Leader Jon Ha Thon must be very proud. To the Gulag with Bolan do I hear him chant. How dare he disparage our fine Council Officers. Indeed so Great Leader.

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