Councils have long complained about the impact of litigation, but normally it involves members of the public suing them.
But one Lancashire council has pleaded with its members to stop suing each other for comments made in the council chamber. Really.
The Accrington Observer reports that one in five councillors on Hyndburn Council have been involved in litigation with each other in recent years.
The newly-appointed Labour leader, Miles Parkinson – the Tories were booted out at the last elections – has now devised a plan to make it all stop – changing the format of full council meetings.
Councillors can no longer have a free-for-all in the part where they ask questions of the leader, and instead have to submit their questions in advance. A handy solution for the ruling party, I’m sure!
He blames the litigation problem on Punch and Judy politics – although I seem to remember Punch and Judy resorted to hitting each other with sausages, not going to court.
Coun Parkinson said: “It’s a fact that 20 per cent of councillors have taken libel action against one another.”
According to ousted council leader Peter Britcliffe:
“It was unheard of a few years ago, but once these things happen other people start to bite back.
“I have been involved in a case involving copyright and I once issued a point of clarification about something I said in the chamber. But I don’t think people are running round suing each other as much now.”
My first reaction when I read this was ‘but surely they’ll all covered by privilege’ but, of course, privilege only applies to statements made without malice. And proving that one way or the other could be a solicitor’s nightmare – or dream, depending on your point of view.
But it’s a point worth remembering for journalists covering increasingly fractious council meetings as spending cuts bite.