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Guidelines for Members in using Legal Services

GENERAL GUIDELINES

As part of a corporate department at the heart of the City Council, Legal Services is well placed and available to assist and support Members in their official duties.

SIGNPOSTING

As can be seen from the range of legal activities covered by the department, staff will be able to assist in locating the relevant Department/Division/Officer which may be dealing with any particular matter that may be of concern to members or their constituents.

Performance Standard - In carrying out this type of work, we will within 3 working days of receipt of the enquiry, ensure that enquiries from Members are directed to the most appropriate officer or department of the Council responsible for the issue and confirm the same to the relevant Member.

CONSTRUCTIVE & HELPFUL ENGAGEMENT

On occasions, Members may feel dissatisfied with a departmental response, or possibly the lack of one. If a Member feels further consideration of the matter might be helpful, then we will be happy to consider the matter and advise accordingly.

Performance Standard - In carrying out this type of work, we will within 14 working days of receipt of the enquiry, work with the Member and the relevant officer(s) to try and clarify the situation and find a workable solution, if possible, which is acceptable to all those involved.

CODE OF CONDUCT FOR MEMBERS

The City Council's Monitoring Officer, is available for any Member who requires advice or assistance with regard to Birmingham's Code of Conduct for Members.

Performance Standards - In carrying out this type of work, the Monitoring Officer (the Corporate Director of Governance) or the Deputy Officer (the Director of Legal Services) will, within 3 working days of receipt of the request, endeavour to answer any query from Members on the Code of Conduct and General Guidance or suggest an appropriate way of dealing with the Member's enquiry.

MONITORING OFFICER ISSUES

Where a Member feels that some wrongdoing or unlawful action has taken place (or, more importantly is likely to take place), the s/he should as a matter of priority, bring it to the attention of the Monitoring Officer. The Section 151 Officer (Corporate Director of Resources), Internal Audit, District Audit and/or the Police may also be involved by the Monitoring Officer, if considered appropriate to do so.

After an extensive period of consultation with Members and Officers, a Member/Officer Relations Protocol was approved by the Standards Committee and the City Council in June 2002.

Performance Standards - In carrying out this type of work, any referrals by Members will be dealt with promptly by the Monitoring Officer or the Deputy Monitoring Officer and within 14 working days of receipt of such matter or, depending upon the complexity of the matter, make sufficient progress to conclude the same.

COMMUNICATION WITH MEMBERS / MPs

IThe Director of Legal Services will take all necessary steps to ensure high quality standards of legal advice, appropriate consistency and prompt attention / importance is given by lawyers dealing with correspondence from Members / MPs. Members / MPs are assured, therefore, that their particular enquiry will be given due importance, dealt with promptly and by the most appropriate lawyer.

Performance Standards - An acknowledgement of receipt of the communication will, ordinarily, be given within 3 working days (if appropriate). A further response will usually follow within 14 working days of receipt of the enquiry or, depending upon the complexity of the matter, sufficient progress will be made to conclude the same.

COURT EVIDENCE / ENGAGEMENT

From time to time, Members may be required to give oral or written evidence to Legal Services or to the Courts (for example in Anti-Social Behaviour cases, Employment or Housing Possession matters). The clarity, accuracy, timeliness and relevance of such evidence will be important / essential for a successful outcome for the City Council. Accurate and contemporaneous recording of basic information (such as the time, place, name, address and description of any activity / offence or parties / offender(s), can all assist in the delivery of a successful outcome for the Council and the citizens of Birmingham. If any Member is unsure about any aspect of court procedure or how to give evidence to the Court, with regard to official Council business matters, s/he is welcome to contact the Monitoring Officer or the Deputy Monitoring Officer for advice and assistance.

COST OF LEGAL ADVICE

If the matter relates to the official business of the City Council, providing legal advice to a Member is a corporate cost. If, however, it relates to a specific service department issue, that department will be charged for the legal advice given to the Member.

Legal advice to a Member on non-Council business related matters is not currently permitted by the Law Society's or the Bar Council's Codes of Professional Conduct. We may, however, be able to assist a Member by referring him/her to an appropriate law firm.


For further advice / information please contact:

Dr Mirza Ahmad - Corporate Director of Governance (& Monitoring Officer) on 303 9991 or

David Tatlow - Director of Legal Services (& Deputy Monitoring Officer) on 303 2151