This document tells Councillors how they should use their CouncillorSite website. It outlines their responsibilities and informs them of what they must and must not do.
Councillors must not use the site by carrying out any of the following activities on or through it:
- the introduction of content that may result in actions for libel, defamation or other claims for damages
- processing personal data other than for the purpose stated at the time of capture (see also the information below about data protection notification)
- the promotion of any political party or campaigning organisation
- the promotion of personal financial interests or commercial ventures
- personal campaigns
- using the site in an abusive or hateful manner
Further details are given below:
A defamatory statement is a statement which is published to a third person which exposes a person to hatred, ridicule or contempt, or which causes him to be shunned or avoided, or which has a tendency to injure him in his office, trade or profession or a tendency to lower him/her in the estimation of right-thinking members of society generally.
A Councillor may not use their CouncillorSite to publish defamatory statements or material. Anyone who believes that they have been defamed by a Councillor will be able to take legal action directly against the Councillor concerned. The relevant legislation is the Defamation Act 1996 and the full text can be found here.
A Councillor is only permitted to publish information in the context of the councillor’s official role in respect of matters of general public interest.
Councillors have been provided with the tools to edit a CouncillorSite by Gosport Borough Council and are responsible for the content of their own CouncillorSite. The Council is not responsible for approving content put on to Councillors’ websites. For the avoidance of any doubt, the Council does not authorise or in any way sanction the publication of statements which might be construed as defamatory.
In managing a website, Councillors may receive comments, enquiries or complaints from members of the public. Visitors to the site may register to receive occasional mailings. Councillors may refer to (or publish) material that is based upon information drawn from the Council or obtained from external sources. All such personal information should be treated with care and respect for relevant data protection law.
The Data Protection Act applies, and the full text of the 1998 Act can be found here.
Anyone processing personal data must comply with the eight enforceable principles of good practice found in the Data Protection Act. They say that data must be:
- fairly and lawfully processed;
- processed for limited purposes;
- adequate, relevant and not excessive;
- not kept longer than necessary;
- processed in accordance with the data subject's rights;
- not transferred to countries without adequate protection.
Personal data covers both facts and opinions about the individual. It also includes information regarding the intentions of the data controller towards the individual. The definition of processing incorporates the concepts of 'obtaining', holding' and 'disclosing'.
Further details about these eight principles and the Data Protection Act can be found here.
The Councillor confirms that he or she has read the Council’s guidance and/or the council’s own policy and code on data protection and accepts the provisions of it.
Councillors have a responsibility under the Data Protection Act 1998 to notify the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) that they are processing personal data as part of their constituency casework.
As part of their role as Councillor, they have access to, and process, personal information, whether when representing the Council or working with their constituents in their local community. When Councillors are handling personal data and deciding how it is used and processed, they could be acting as a ‘Data Controller’.
When Councillors are processing personal data when acting as a representative of the Council (for example when sitting on a licensing committee to hear an application for a taxi licence, or when accessing tenancy files to consider whether the Council should proceed with an eviction) then this is part of the Council’s statutory function and it is the Council that is the Data Controller in this instance, as it is they that determine what personal information is used and how it is processed.
However, when Councillors process personal data in relation to their constituency casework when representing members of their ward (dealing with complaints and issues raised by the public, diary surgery appointments, writing letters on behalf of their constituents, etc) it is the Councillor who is the Data Controller and, as such, the Councillor has a legal obligation to register with the ICO. This is because in this instance it is them who determines how the personal data is used and how it is processed.
Councillors can find out how to notify by following this link and the Council will reimburse to Councillors the annual fee of £35.
Failure to register when required to do so is a criminal offence.
Because all CouncillorSites are funded by a Local Authority, Councillors may not use their CouncillorSite to promote political campaigns and advocate political stances on issues. They may not use the site to promote a political party or persons identified with a political party. They may not use it to promote or oppose a view on a question of political controversy which is identifiable with the view of one political party and not of another.
Councillors may use the ‘My Politics’ section of their website to link to external websites of a political nature.
During election times (from the ‘notice of an election’ to the election itself), most parts of Councillors’ websites will be suspended. Visitors will still, however, be able to contact them through the website.
Other Statutory Issues
Care should be taken to ensure compliance with the law and the Council’s policies (where applicable) in respect of what Councillors publish on their website. Particular issues to bear in mind include (but are not limited to):
- Legislative requirements relating to equalities, discrimination, incitement to racial hatred, or hatred against persons on religious grounds etc (Equality Act 2010, Public Order Act 1986)
- Publication of obscene material (Obscene Publications Act 1959, Protection of Children Act 1978, Criminal Justice Act 1988, Telecommunications Act 1984)
The text of all legislation can be found at http://www.legislation.gov.uk/.
Elected Members Code of Conduct
The Council has specific provisions that govern the conduct of elected members as an elected representative. Their use of CouncillorSites could breach that Code of Conduct. The CouncillorSite should not be used to breach these rules or any local protocols.
On a general level
- The site must not be used in a way that will bring Elected Members or Gosport Borough Council into disrepute
- The site must promote equality by not discriminating unlawfully against any person, treating others with respect and not to do anything which compromises the impartiality of those who work for or on behalf of the authority.
- To treat Local Government Officers’ recommendations or known views impartially
- Elected Members must not disclose information given to them in confidence or information acquired, which they believe, is of a confidential nature without the consent of a person authorised to give it.
- Elected members must not use their CouncillorSite to disclose information which the Council has considered in exempt session, or which they are on notice is confidential for any other reason.
- Elected Members must not use their CouncillorSite to secure personal advantage or secure use for themselves or others of the resources of the authority (for instance, by advertising a commercial service or by using the site to encourage Gosport Borough Council to purchase a particular item or service)
Tainting of Decision Making through Biased/Closed Minds
When making decisions Councillors must take care to keep an open mind.
The law has recently changed to say that a decision-maker is not to be taken to have had a closed-mind when making the decision just because the decision-maker has previously done or said something that directly or indirectly indicated what view the decision-maker took, or might take, in relation to a particular matter that is relevant to the decision made.
As a result of this change, you may wish to use your individual websites to set out a clear position on a particular issue. However, in order to minimise the risks inherent in any future legal challenge and to counter any allegation of pre-determination, Councillors should declare at the meeting at which the decision is to be made that they will make the decision on its merits and have not pre-determined the matter, although they obviously have a pre-disposition in the matter for the reasons they have already publically expressed.
To have regard to all relevant advice when reaching decisions and to give reasons for decisions.
Elected Members must give an accurate and even-handed account of discussions or processes that lead to decisions being taken. For example, they must not give a one-sided account of the reasons for a planning application being refused.
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