A TOP judge has ruled The Bolton News cannot name two councillors summonsed to court after they failed to pay their council tax for two years in a row.
For 18 months, The Bolton News has called for various authorities to name the Bolton councillors — one Labour and one Conservative — who were summonsed to court after they failed to pay a total of £4,660 on time.
But now, in a written judgement, Judge Robin Challender Smith and two tribunal members decided the councillors’ names should not be released because the circumstances of their cases “placed the individuals in a position where they could significantly and legitimately have expected not to be named”.
The report claims it would cause the two councillors distress and infringe their human rights.
The ruling added: “Such publication would be contrary to Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (which relates to the) private life rights of the individuals.
"Releasing the information could potentially cause unnecessary and unjustified damage and distress to the individuals.”
Neither councillor ended up in court as they arranged payment plans with the council, covering the periods of 2011/12 and 2012/13. Both councillors have now paid their arrears in full.
The Bolton News obtained the information with a freedom of information request, but the council refused to name them, citing data protection laws.
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After an appeal against the decision failed, The Bolton News contacted the information commissioner’s office (ICO), which has the power to force the council to reveal the names.
The Bolton News appealed to the First Tier Tribunal and our legal team wrote a detailed submission, which argued why the pair should be named.
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.
During the process, Bolton Council lawyers took the unusual step of asking the tribunal if they could contribute to the decision-making process.
The tribunal allowed the council to do so.
The ruling brings an end to The Bolton News’s attempts to get the councillors’ names, as there are no further appeal stages available.
During the process, the council wrote to the two councillors asking if they were prepared to be named — neither said yes.
Bolton Conservative group leader, Cllr David Greenhalgh, said: “This issue has now been to two independent bodies who have had all the facts before them.
"They have both come to the same conclusion and I think we should respect that.”
A council spokesman said: “We welcome the tribunal ruling that the original decision made by the information commissioner was correct.
"We take our responsibility to protect personal data very seriously and each application for the release of information is considered in accordance with the law.”