The Bolton News has been told it cannot name two local councillors who were summoned to court for non-payment of council tax. An information tribunal has ruled that the paper must respect their right to privacy, which outweighs the public interest.
News reporter Dale Haslam, had appealed against a decision by the information commissioner to withhold the names of the two local politicians – one Labour and one Tory.
The pair had received court summonses, issued by their own local authority, after failing to pay a total of £4,600 council tax on time.
The News argued that the public had a right to know if councillors fell below the standards of behaviour expected of elected representatives.
But the first tier tribunal on information rights said that publishing their names would cause the two councillors distress and infringe their human rights.
In a written judgement, Judge Robin Challender Smith and two tribunal members decided the circumstances of their cases placed the councillors in a position where they “could significantly and legitimately have expected not to be named…
“Releasing the information could potentially cause unnecessary and unjustified damage and distress to the individuals.”
It held that identifying the councillors would be a breach of their right to respect for privacy and family life under article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Neither councillor ended up in court because they arranged payment plans with the council before the case was called. Both have now cleared their arrears.
Reporting the ruling, the newspaper said: “Our solicitor said councillors should expect to be scrutinised to a greater degree than members of the public and that the council was wrong to ask the tribunal to withhold the names, which were temporarily made public at the time the court case arrangements were drawn up.”
The ruling brings an end to The Bolton News’ attempts to get the councillors’ names, as there are no further appeal stages available.