Douglas Bain, the Northern Ireland Assembly Commissioner for Standards, today published his statutory annual report on his work during the year ending 31 March 2016.
In his report the Commissioner notes the significant reduction in the number of complaints made about the conduct of MLAs, due in part to lack of public confidence in the complaints process.
Mr Bain makes a number of recommendations to boost public confidence including
- publication of brief details of all admissible complaints he receives
- an end to the current party political approach to conduct issues
- a provision prohibiting the use of a Petition of Concern in relation to complaints
- the appointment of lay independent members to the Committee on Standards and Privileges.
Mr Bain said: “Complaints about the conduct of MLAs should be decided on their merits and not on a party political basis. Urgent consideration should now be given to the appointment of lay independent members to the committee that decides on complaints and to other measures to boost public confidence in the complaints process.”
Notes for Editors
- Douglas Bain is the first Northern Ireland Assembly Commissioner for Standards and started his five year term of office in September 2012.
- The Commissioner’s main function is to investigate complaints that MLAs have broken the provisions of the Code of Conduct and to report his findings to the Committee on Standards and Privileges.
- The Committee decides whether the MLA has breached the Code and on the sanction, if any, to recommend to the Assembly.
- The Committee is comprised of 11 MLAs selected in the same way as other Assembly committees. There are no lay independent members.
- In 2013 three independent lay members were appointed to the equivalent House of Commons committee. Last year, following the success of that initiative, the composition of the Commons committee was changed to seven MPs and 7 lay independent members. Lay independent members are a common feature of many discipline bodies including those responsible for the conduct of solicitors, doctors and teachers.
- At Westminster, Holyrood and Cardiff party politics play no part in the consideration of complaints against members. That is not the case at the Assembly.
- When considering the Commissioner’s report on the complaint against Sammy Wilson the Committee on Standards and Privileges voted on nine occasions. Each time all the DUP committee members voted one way and all other committee members, whatever their party, the other.
- In June 2015, after the Committee’s decision that Mr Wilson had been guilty of misconduct by calling Jim Alastair ‘a thug’, a DUP Petition of Concern was used to prevent the imposition of any sanction on him.
A copy of the Commissioner’s report is attached and can also be found on the Assembly’s website.
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