Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Fact: Council officers can and do lie with impunity to Local Government Ombudsmen

A recent article by Neil Herron has highlighted an important difference between Local Government Ombudsmen and a Tribunal.

In the case reported the complainant concerned managed to obtain documentary evidence from the tribunal that proved a council officer had falsified a map to support their case against him. As a result of this falsified map the tribunal found against the complainant. However, once the complainant had the evidence they went to the Police and they are now investigating the incident.

Now contrast this with what happens with the Local Government Ombudsmen. It is a well known fact that the LGO base their decision on evidence given to them by council officers whilst at the same time refusing to allow the complainant to see, let alone validate or contradict, the evidence. However the main injustice arises when the complainant requests a copy of the council's defence to their complaint, unlike the tribunal above which provided copies of the council's defence to the complainant, which allowed the Police action, Local Government Ombudsmen refuse to give the complainant the documents they need to prove council officers lied to them.

This is a national disgrace and the LGO should be ashamed of themselves for accepting fabricated and doctored evidence from council officers in the first place but not allowing the complainant the chance to view the evidence, independently validate it and take action should they find it had been 'doctored'. is indefensible.

This is exactly what happened with the Balchins original complaint some 20 years ago, it is exactly what happened to me between 1997 and 2008 and it is still going on today. Local Government Ombudsmen accept the word of a council officer, find against the complainant and close down the investigation without giving the complainant the chance to see, validate or contradict the evidence supplied by the council.

The fact that a council officer may have lied, falsified documents and or other evidence never comes to light because Local Government Ombudsmen ensure it doesn't. Neither do they report the fact to the Police.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

LGO: One way or another their staff are liars

Following a recent Freedom of Information request to identify why some of the estate roads in the vicinity of my property were not adopted earlier I was contacted by the Information Commissioners office who informed me they had just been told by the council that some of the roads in question were just about to be adopted by the council.

Whilst this had no bearing on my FOI request it was nevertheless interesting that the ICO should contradict what an LGO investigator had told me 2 years ealier. During the investigation into my complaint the LGO investigator told me that all the roads on the estate, save for a very small stretch in the vicinity of my properly, were adopted.

However, at that time NONE of the highways on phase 1 or phase 2 of the development had been adopted so I knew that was not true. When I confronted the investigator they told me that they validated everything they are told by a council officer.

Given the facts there is only one conclusion you can reach, the LGO investigator blatantly lied to me. If they argue that they only told me what a council officer had told them they must have lied lied about validating everything a council officer tells them.

Following my research it is obvious that they don't validate everything they are told by council officers. However, which is worse the fact that, they are prepared to overlook a council officer lying to them, they are willing to conspire with council officers and pass on their lies or they base the outcome of their investigation on council officer lies?

If any of the Local Government Ombudsman would like to answer that question I would be willing to post their response.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

The LGO and their misuse of Section 44 of the FOI Act.

On the 18th September 2009 I submitted the following Freedom of Information request to the Local Government Ombudsman.

'Over the last five years how many certified offences has each LGO brought to the attention of the High Court, how many involved a council member or officer, what were the outcomes and which council did the member or officers work for.'

On the 16th October 2009 I received a response which included the following

'The Freedom of Information Act (section 44) does not override any restriction on the release of information covered by an earlier law. Such a restriction applies to the Ombudsman's complaint files. Under the Local Government Act 1974 (section 32(2)), the Ombudsman is not permitted to disclose any information obtained in the course of, or for the purposes of, the investigation of a complaint, unless he or she considers it is necessary for the purposes of the investigation (or for other very limited reasons mostly related to legal proceedings). I have decided that releasing this information to you is not necessary for the purposes of an investigation and so I am not able to comply with your request.'

I immediately requested an internal review however, the LGO failed to respond within the time limit prescribed by the Freedom of Information Act so I submitted a complaint to the Information Commissioner.

Following the Information Commissioner's involvement I received a belated response to my request for an internal review from the Local Government Ombudsman.

Whilst I now had the information I sought

'On the basis of the clarification you have now provided, I can advise you that over the past five years there has been no occasion when it has been necessary for an LGO to obtain a direction from the High Court for a council or council officer to provide information requested by the LGO in connection with an investigation.'

I was annoyed at the pathetic attempt of the Deputy Chief Executive and Secretary of the Commission for Local Administration in England (The official name of the Local Government Ombudsman service) to deflect attention away from their earlier misuse of Section 44. The truth was that my Freedom of Information request needed no clarification, it was clear, concise and specific.

Although my complaint regarding the Local Government Ombudsman's refusal to give me the information was no longer valid the part of my complaint regarding their misuse of Section 44 and the delay in responding to my request for an internal review was still valid and on the 9th February 2010 I received the following email from the Information Commissioner's office,

(It makes interesting reading for everyone who feels the Local Government Ombudsman are giving them the run around regarding their freedom of information requests and for those who are unhappy with their internal review response from the Deputy Chief Executive and Secretary of the Commission for Local Administration in England.)

Tuesday, 09 February 2010

Dear Mr Nunn

Your complaint concerning the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO)
Our reference: FS50285678
Freedom of Information Act 2000 (the Act)


Thank you for your email dated 4 February 2010 confirming the scope of your enquiry. Your two main concerns in this case have been discussed with and noted by our Good Practice and Enforcement team. They may be summarised as follows:

1. The LGO’s initial interpretation of your information request and the apparent blanket application of section 44 of the Act.

2. The delay in conducting the internal review

The LGO’s initial interpretation of your information request and the apparent blanket application of section 44 of the Act.

On 18 September 2009 you requested;

“Over the last five years how many certified offences has each LGO brought to the attention of the High Court, how many involved a council member or officer, what were the outcomes and which council did the member or officers work for.”

The LGO responded on 16 October 2009 by stating that all elements of the request were being refused under section 44 of the Act; the relevant statutory prohibition being section 32(2) of the Local Government Act 1974. It said that information obtained in the course of or for the purposes of an investigation of a complaint was excluded from disclosure unless specific conditions were met. It did not seek clarification from you regarding the information being sought, presumably being satisfied that the request could be read objectively as being information obtained in relation to complaints.


You requested an internal review on 18 October 2010 explaining that were not asking for information obtained in the course of or for the purposes of an investigation of a complaint; merely, the number of times each Ombudsman had so much difficulty obtaining information for the purpose on an investigation that they had to certify an offence to the High Court.

The LGO wrote to you on 11 January 2010 with the outcome of its internal review. It said that your email dated 18 October 2009 had effectively clarified the original request and based on this clarification it was able to answer your request from its legal adviser’s recollections as it did not keep a separate record of the information requested. It advised that over the last five years there were no occasions when it had to obtain a direction from the High Court. However, it did point out that the identities of any council or council employee involved would be exempt under section 44 as this would amount to information obtained during the course of an investigation. The LGO further advised that the original response was correct based on its understanding of your request.

I have discussed the matter with a colleague in our Good Practice and Enforcement team and he agrees with me that on an objective reading your request was quite unequivocal. Effectively you were asking for the number of times the LGO had to obtain a direction from the High Court. It is therefore a little confusing as why the LGO interpreted the request in the way it did. It obviously believed that its objective reading of the case was that you wanted to know information obtained in connection with a complaint. It seems that it did not believe the request was unclear as it did not request clarification of the request as it is entitled to do under section 1(3) of the Act. Furthermore, it does not appear appropriate that it should seek to apply section 44 in a blanket manner. It was been cautioned about doing this in the past by the ICO. See the Commissioner’s decision in case FS50094124 (specifically, paragraph 17).

The delay in conducting the internal review

The internal review was requested on 18 October 2009 but the review was not completed and the outcome advised to you until 11 January 2010, some 57 working days later. This does not conform with Part VI of the section 45 Code of Practice which states that complaints procedures should promote a ‘prompt determination’ of complaints. Furthermore, the time taken to complete the internal review was outside the Commissioner’s standard target of 20 working days. See his Guidance on Internal Reviews and Time limits for carrying out Internal Reviews which specifies that a reasonable time in which to carry out an internal review is 20 working days from the date of the review request. Furthermore, although the Commissioner recognises that there may be ‘exceptional circumstances’ which would result in the review taking longer, he does not believe that the time involved should be any more that 40 working days. There is no evidence in your case that there were any exceptional circumstances.

Next steps

The procedural deficiencies outlined above have been noted and recorded by our Good Practice and Enforcement team in their referral log. Furthermore, a letter will to sent to the LGO drawing its attention to these deficiencies and reminding it of the caution issued in the Commissioner’s decision in case FS50094124.

Yours sincerely

********************[I have removed the name of the particular Senior Complaints Officer]
Senior Complaints Officer
Information Commissioner's Office

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Tweet and Retweet now added to my blog

I have recently started to twitter about the Local Government Ombudsman and the Administrative Justice System in general as part of that process I noticed that another blogger who blogs about problems in Wales had a tweet/retweet button on their blog allowing reader to tweet or retweet about the post. I decided to give it a go and have just added the option to my blog. Hopefully readers who tweet can send the post link to their circle of followers without having to do anything more than click on a link.

Monday, February 01, 2010

LGO: Systemic Failure

"If ombudsmen are to have a greater impact on ‘getting decision-making right first time.' their focus should shift from the resolution of all individual complaints to a more strategic focus concentrating on the small number of complaints that are of significance to parties beyond those in dispute and that appear to involve systemic failures. Resources freed up as a result should be used to bolster policy,analytic and communication functions. Ombudsmen should move from predominantly facing the public, to predominantly facing administrators."

Brian Thompson, Richard Kirkham and Trevor Buck. (The Ombudsman issue 38, partially repeated in an article in issue 39 by Chriss Gill)


The irony being that the Local Government Ombudsmen are themselves a major cause of the systemic failure of the administrative justice system in England.