West Lothian Council: Linlithgow councillor Sally Pattle cleared of a breach of conduct
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West Lothian’s Lib Dem councillor Sally Pattle has been cleared of breaking the Councilllor’s Code by the Standards Commission. Councillor Pattle was found to have failed, “on the face of it” to behave with courtesy and respect as she spoke in an aggressive tone and pointed her finger during a visit to the offices of a local Business Improvement District, One Linlithgow, in July 2022.
A hearing panel found, however, that a formal breach could not be made as a restriction on councillor’s Pattle’s right to freedom of expression could not be justified.
Councillor Pattle told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “I’m pleased the Commissioner upheld the initial findings of the Commission that there was no breach and that I’m extremely grateful for the support of my party throughout the process.”
Ashleigh Dunn, Standards Commission member and chair of the Hearing Panel, said: “In this case, the panel found that councillor’s Pattle’s conduct towards the staff present in the office was inappropriate.”
The panel heard that Councillor Pattle had visited the offices of One Linlithgow in order to hand over a cheque. Having heard from two witnesses at the hearing, the panel was satisfied, on balance, that following a disagreement over her status as a member of the board of One Linlithgow, councillor Pattle behaved in an inappropriate manner by speaking in a “loud and aggressive tone, and pointing her finger”.
As such, the panel found that councillor Pattle had failed to treat the staff members with courtesy and respect, as required by the code.
The panel accepted, nevertheless, that councillor Pattle was entitled to the enhanced right to freedom of expression afforded to politicians commenting on matters of public interest, under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The panel heard that councillor Pattle’s interaction with employees had been very limited and that her tone had been relative to the disagreement over her board status, rather than being aimed at any particular member of staff as an individual. As such, the panel found that her conduct had not been sufficiently personal, offensive, abusive or gratuitous as to justify a restriction on her enhanced right to freedom of expression, which a finding of a breach of the code and imposition of a sanction would entail. As such, the panel concluded overall that a breach of the code could not be found.
Ms Dunn stated: “The panel emphasised that the requirement for councillors to behave in a respectful and courteous manner towards others is a fundamental requirement of the code, as it helps to both protect the public and to ensure confidence in the role of an elected member and the council itself is not undermined.
“Failing to uphold the values the public are entitled to expect only serves to contribute to poor standards of behaviour and public debate.”
A full written decision of the hearing will be issued and published on the Standards Commission’s website within 14 days.