INDEX October 2, 1987

Councillors bound by manifesto judges

PROTESTING ratepayers in Waltham Forest last Thursday lost the latest round in their legal challenge to the 62 per cent rate rise imposed by the Labour council.

The Court of Appeal rejected their argument that the rate increase was "irrational, unreasonable and illegal".

The ratepayers have raised £100,000 to cover the legal costs of the challenge so far.

They complained that six or seven councillors voted for the rates increase even though they felt the proposed rates were unreasonably high.

They also complained that "there was no genuine or adequate consultation with representatives of commerce and industry" about the proposed increase.

But Sir John Donaldson, Master of the Rolls, sitting with Lords Justices Russell and Stocker, unanimously rejected all the ratepayers' arguments, including their complaint that councillors had allowed themselves to be "improperly fettered" for the sake of party unity into voting for the resolution, because the councillors were bound by their election manifesto to undertake expenditure which rendered such a high rate inevitable.

Sir John, dismissing the ratepayers' appeal against a High Court ruling in favour of the council, said the duty of an individual councillor was "to make up his own mind on how to vote, giving such weight as he thinks appropriate to the views of other councillors and to the policy of the group of which he is a member.

"It is only if he abdicates his personal responsibility that questions can arise as to the validity of his vote." Lord Justice Stocker said: "I see no reason why a councillor should not vote in favour of a resolution contrary to his own intellectual assessment of its merit, taken in isolation, in order to secure unanimity of vote, provided he retains an unfettered discretion in the council chamber.


"There is nothing, in my view, morally or legally culpable in voting in support of a majority which has considered and rejected his arguments, providing he considers all the available options and considers that the maintenance of such unanimity is of greater value to the ratepayers than insistence upon his own view.

"This is not invalidated by the fact that certain sanctions, which could be imposed upon a failure to accept the party whip, might follow as a consequence."

Outside court Alan Crown, a committee member of the ratepayers' action group who is a master baker and runs a bakery at Station Road, Chingford, said: "We are very upset that, after all the months of work since the rate was voted on in March, we have got nothing more for the people of Waltham Forest.

"The borough where we all live and which we love is being ruined by the council for the residents and the businesses.

Mr Crown criticised the British legal system for keeping legal redress "out of the reach of normal people because of the need to raise so much money".
Waltham Forest Guardian October 2, 1987.