A former Pencoed Town Council councillor has been barred from holding office for two years after declaring he was eligible to stand for election even though he had a criminal record, disqualifying him from running under the Local Government Act 1972.
The Adjudication Panel for Wales said that the actions of the former councillor, Gordon Lewis, who served as a member for a year and eight months before stepping down, warranted a "significant period of disqualification".
In 2015, Mr Lewis was convicted of affray and two counts of common assault. He was sentenced to a total of 16 months imprisonment, suspended for 24 months.
Three years later, he stood for election to the council. He submitted a 'nomination pack' which included the following declaration: "I declare that to the best of my knowledge and belief I am not disqualified for being elected by reason of any disqualification set out in, or decision made under, section 80 of the Local Government Act 1972 or section 78A or 79 of the Local Government Act 2000."
Section 80 of the Local Government Act 1972 provides that:
"a person shall be disqualified for being elected or being a member of a local
authority if he –
(d) has within five years before the day of election or since his election been convicted [...] of any offence and has had passed on him a sentence of imprisonment (whether suspended or not) for a period of not less than three months without the option of a fine"
Almost two years into his tenure, a national newspaper published a news story referencing his conviction, alerting the council to his criminal record for the first time. He resigned from his role soon after.
The Public Services Ombudsman for Wales investigated the case and submitted a report to the Adjudication Panel for Wales, which then conducted a Case Tribunal.
The Ombudsman's report alleged that the former councillor had misled the council as to his eligibility to be a councillor and that his dishonesty, both when signing the declaration of acceptance of office and during the time that he acted as a councillor, was a serious abuse of office.
The Ombudsman considered that Mr Lewis's actions amounted to "serious disreputable conduct" and suggested that he was "entirely unfit for public office". In light of this, the Ombudsman called upon the panel to consider disqualification to be the most appropriate form of sanction.
The ensuing tribunal found that the breach was serious in nature as the conduct could reasonably be regarded as conduct which would seriously undermine the public's faith in the Code and the standards regime.
It noted that Mr Lewis had been in office for a lengthy period of time and was likely to have voted in significant council decisions and to have received sensitive information in his role, despite being disqualified from being elected.
"Section 80(1)(d) was in place for a reason, so that an individual would be disqualified for a substantial amount of time if s/he had been convicted and sentenced of certain offences," the tribunal said.
"By nevertheless signing his Declaration of Acceptance of Officer and acting as a Member for 1 year and 8 months, the Case Tribunal considered this to be a matter which merited a significant period of disqualification under the standards regime."
The panel concluded by unanimous decision that Mr Lewis should be disqualified for 24 months from being or becoming a member of Pencoed Town Council or any other relevant authority within the meaning of the Local Government Act 2000.
Mr Lewis did not engage with either the Ombudsman or the Adjudication Panel. The tribunal noted that he had displayed a "degree of recognition of the seriousness of the matter" in view of his prompt resignation following press reporting, "however there was no evidence of any real insight shown or evidence of any accompanying apology".
A copy of the panel's report can be found here: https://adjudicationpanel.gov.wales/sites/adjudicationpanel/files/2022-06/APW-0010-2021-022-CT-Former-Councillor-Gordon-Lewis-Notification-of-decision-v2.pdf