This morning’s BBC Nolan Show, via an investigation by David Thompson, once again provided a glimpse into the increasingly erratic and legally questionable behaviour of the Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman, who also doubles up as the Local Government Commissioner for Standards, Marie Anderson.
In her latest escapade it was revealed that she had threatened a citizen who published the contents of a report with “contempt of the High Court” and astonishingly with the “Official Secrets Act”- yes really, the official secrets act!
This is just another example of an increasingly out of control bureaucrat issuing diktats which have no legal basis. Whilst we can laugh at the absurdity and legally vacuous nature of the threats thrown out like confetti by Ms Anderson, it must be remembered she is behaving like this regularly with a range of private citizens who are being menaced by her legal threats which are ultimately unenforceable. If she wants to test her legal analysis then I urge her to go on ahead and make a referral to the High Court for contempt and let us have the court determine whether she is acting outside of her powers, or not.
In 2016 the Attorney General, John Larkin QC already issued a warning to the out of control Public Services Ombudsman in which he said:
“That the ombudsman herself considers the report to be confidential until she decides to publish it is irrelevant….because the ombudsman has no power to make an order restricting publication she ought not to threaten citizens with contempt proceedings when there is no apparent basis for subjecting their proposed actions to such a sanction.”
It can be revealed that Ms Anderson is currently menacing an elected representative in the same manner and extraordinarily is also;
- Issuing orders decreeing that some extremely contentious decisions must be kept confidential and not published. She is further threatening with contempt of the High Court any person that would reveal the details of such decisions.
- Providing anonymity to witnesses- included a prominent IRA terrorist- despite having no statutory power to do so and threatening with contempt of the High Court anyone that would reveal the name of the witness.
- In possession of a witness statement from a prominent IRA terrorist which arguably amounts to prima facie evidence of IRA membership, and has not reported the existence of the statement to the PSNI.
This comes as Ms Anderson, in her role as Local Government Commissioner for Standards, is systematically seeking to restrict the Article 10 enhanced protections afforded to elected representatives and is acting as an arbitrator of political debate.
There is already a High Court challenge, brought by Independent Councillor Jolene Bunting, against the outrageous attempts by Ms Anderson to suspend the Belfast City Councillor. Mr Justice Maguire already expressed some surprise at the kind of comments which had lead Ms Anderson to infringe on the Article 10 rights of democratically elected representatives.
It is outrageous that Ms Anderson, a well-paid civil servant, should believe she has the right to police the free speech of democratically elected representatives, and worse still to feel it is within her power to ban persons from standing for election or taking their place in the council chamber. It is for the people to decide whether they want a particular councillor to represent them, or not. It is not for a civil servant to unilaterally substitute their subjective, and it seems to me increasingly sectarian, decision making for that of the electorate.
Marie Anderson is acting far beyond her statutory powers, and it appears unionist councillors are bearing the brunt of the majority of her most contentious decisions. I have also personally heard from solicitors, and indeed experienced myself, the rude, aggressive and at times snarling approach adopted by Ms Anderson in hearings.
It is clear that this out of control civil servant needs to be reined in. It is somewhat surprising there hasn’t been a more coordinated move by unionist parties to force her resignation long ago. It is time Ms Anderson seen the writing on the wall and resigned, it is clear she is unable to constrain herself within the confines of her statutory powers and this should be enough to ensure she is never again entrusted with any high profile public appointments.