By Jamie Bryson
Alderman Ruth Patterson is being hauled before the Local Government Commissioner on the basis of a factual and accurate speech which highlighted the fact Crumlin Star FC had on their committee a senior IRA terrorist. Despite not naming the aforementioned terror boss, Eddie Copeland self-identified himself as the person to which the comments related.
Rather than notifying the PSNI of this admission, which may amount to prima facie evidence of IRA membership, the Local Government Commissioner consented thus far to Copeland’s name being withheld from his witness statement, instead being referred to as a “named person”.
This despite neither the Local Government Commissioner nor the Deputy Commissioner having legal powers to grant anonymity orders, or to order that the identity of witnesses -who have voluntarily submitted witness statements- be withheld.
I was asked by Alderman Patterson to act as her representative during the adjudication process, as is her right, and indeed the Local Government Commissioner accepted I was instructed in relation to this matter and engaged in all the Case Management process and exchange of skeleton legal arguments without raising any issue.
However, once I made an application for the identity of the ‘Named Person’ to be revealed, and given his evidence goes to the core of the truthful nature of Alderman Patterson’s comments, for him to also be called so he could be cross examined, all of a sudden the Local Government Commissioner’s office went into meltdown.
It is not clear who was responsible for redacting all reference to Mr Copeland, but you will see it is evidently someone with very little legal training given they redacted his first name in one sentence, only to leave it in the very next sentence. Genius.
The Deputy Commissioner then, at the 11th hour, arrived in with not one, or two but three Barristers and a solicitor and the Local Government Commissioner took up her position with not one, not two but three solicitors flanking her. Quite the honour I thought to myself as I sat alone at the table reserved for the respondent.
I thought with all the legal firepower in the room surely they would have come up with a slam-dunk. Oh no, instead we had a laughable charade whereby it was pointed out I may have a “potential conflict of interest” due to an allegation- made by IRA man Eddie Copeland- that I was the author of the impugned speech. Not even an actual conflict of interest, just a potential one. I pointed out their point was legally vacuous as (a) no conflict existed and (b) even if it did, it was a matter for Alderman Patterson.
So after getting absolutely nowhere with their contrived submissions- which are among the most ridiculous legal arguments one has ever had the misfortune of enduring- the Local Government Commissioner just decided she would exercise her discretion and exclude me from representing Alderman Patterson anyhow without demonstrating any good or sufficient reason, as is required to exercise such discretion. That would be the end of the awkward situation of her having to try and deal with the hearing without upsetting Eddie Copeland, or so she thought.
I immediately requested an appeal. Apparently you have no right of appeal; really? It seems Marie Anderson is above her decisions being appealed; she has granted herself the same status as the Supreme Court. After explaining to her that in that case I would be initiating Judicial Review proceedings and naturally the pre-adjudication hearing would have to be adjourned anyhow in order that Alderman Patterson could have the opportunity of having alternative representation.
Not on Marie Anderson’s watch; basic rules of fairness such as both sides having the opportunity to be represented does not apply. Instead, in an astonishing abuse of process, Ms Anderson decreed that she would be proceeding in the absence of anyone representing Alderman Patterson. That in of itself is a resigning matter.
Then came the most absurd moment of all, a decree by Marie Anderson that her decision must not be repeated or published; it was to be kept private. I could do nothing but laugh, collect my stuff and remark quietly “we shall see how that plays out for you”, “What did you say?” the rather flustered Commissioner asked as I was heading towards the door, it seemed appropriate to simply reply “I am going to pick a fight” and with that the pre-adjudication hearing, or at least the part of it with both parties represented, was over.
A letter was then immediately sent to the Commissioner making clear that my duty of confidentiality was only to Alderman Patterson and in circumstances whereby she had waived such a duty, that I was going to not only publish her decision in the public interest- in defiance of her decree- but also reveal the existence of the secret witness statement. I asked for a reply before 5pm on the same day asking that any statutory legal grounds preventing such a course of action are outlined in writing.
The response was rather fantastic; Marie Anderson, as you can see below, skirted the issue but made reference to contempt of the High Court and/or obstruction. A ludicrous interpretation of these powers, and one around which the Attorney General in unrelated circumstances already warned the Commissioner about.
Undeterred she also stated she was proceeding with the hearing regardless of whether Alderman Patterson had representation and because she could not wait for any potential Judicial Review proceedings to conclude. It appears that Marie Anderson views herself as a High Court judge. A pre-action protocol Judicial Review letter issued last Friday then began a game of chicken. In my correspondence I warned the Commissioner not to proceed with the hearing scheduled for Tuesday, the Commissioner robustly stated she would be proceeding. Then she backed down on Monday evening, but said she would be proceeding on Wednesday. Again she was informed to go ahead if she was sure of her legal position, but we strongly cautioned against it. At 10am on Wednesday morning, 30 minutes before she had promised she was going to proceed, again she buckled and adjourned, this time for a week.
This is the current state of the dispute and it is likely legal challenges to a range of her actions will follow. This Local Government Commissioner is out of control and it is about time she was publically challenged. She has threatened and bullied a range of citizens with threats of taking them to the High Court if anyone dares challenge her; well now she has a clear case of defiance of one of her decrees which I say she has no legal power to issue; time for Marie Anderson to put her money where her mouth is and certify it to the High Court.
Below you can download the submissions made on Alderman Patterson’s behalf (and published with her permission) in relation to the applicability of Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights and the argument that the Local Government Commissioner has no grounds to infringe upon the enhanced protections offered to our elected representatives.