Page last updated at 18:06 GMT, Friday, 24 February 2006

What is the adjudication panel?

David Laverick
David Laverick heads the panel

As London Mayor Ken Livingstone is suspended from office by the Adjudication Panel, the BBC News Website looks at what that body does, and the stretch of its powers.

Councillors who have breached their code of conduct make up those likely to find themselves in front of the Adjudication Panel for England.

It is an independent judicial tribunal that deals with cases on the conduct of local authority members.

They range from complaints about people on parish councils, through district, up to city and unitary authorities, and the Greater London Authority.

It also includes public police authorities where councillors are involved, the Metropolitan Police and the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority.

High profile cases include the council whistleblower in the Westminster "homes for votes" scandal.

Labour councillor Paul Dimoldenberg was cleared of bringing the council into disrepute when he leaked information, on money owed by Dame Shirley Porter, that he felt was in the public interest.

The panel is not a quango, but a non-departmental public body that came into being under the Local Government Act 2000, on the recommendation of parliament's committee on standards in public life.

Disrepute finding

A president, currently David Laverick, the pensions ombudsman, is in charge and heads up a team of 11 other legal members and 21 lay people.

He and the 11 legal members appointed by the Lord Chancellor, currently Lord Falconer, after consultation with the Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott.

The Ken Livingstone case centred around the allegation that he brought his office into disrepute.

The panel found he acted in an "unnecessarily insensitive" manner in comparing a Jewish journalist to a concentration camp guard.

City Hall, London
Members sitting here come under the panel's local authority remit

The panel deals with that kind of offence, along with other breaches of the code of conduct for authorities.

They include failure to treat others with respect, to disclose a personal interest or to register financial and other interests.

Complaints - say from members of the public or fellow councillors - do not come straight to the panel.

Council watchdog, the Standards Board for England decides whether it should be investigated, and if so, an ethical standards officer undertakes a probe.

He can come to one of four decisions - that there is no breach of the code; there was a breach but no action is necessary; refer it back to a local standards committee; or send it to the adjudication panel.

Once referred the panel will hold a tribunal, much like an employment tribunal and the panel tries to hold that in the local authority's area.

Witnesses called

The case is heard by one of the panel's legal members and two lay members and generally takes one day, with the decision delivered on the same day.

Before it is held, the panel will take written submissions on the case. On the day, witnesses can be called to give oral evidence.

Ken Livingstone's four-week suspension has produced strong reaction from his supporters, and claims that it is anti-democratic.

But it is not the toughest measure the panel - charged with checking breaches in local authority standards - can order.

Reach of powers

It can find there was no breach of the code; a breach, but no action to be taken; a breach and recommend a reprimand or apology; a partial suspension e.g. from planning committees; a suspension of up to one year; or disqualification for up to five years.

Total disqualification only occurs when an authority member has been in prison for six months.

Since January 2003, the panel has dealt with 320 cases.

In that time, among the decisions made, three people were disqualified from office for five years, 11 suspended for a year, and two for a month - around the same time as Ken Livingstone.


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific