Hyndburn council’s leader claims one in five of Accrington town hall’s elected members have been involved in libel rows with one another in recent years.
The town hall’s new Labour leaders have now changed the format of the full meetings with the knockabout debate element in leader’s question time replaced with pre-submitted questions.
The Observer understands that at least seven current, or recently deposed, members have been either the plaintiff or defendant in legal actions, with two cases outstanding.
Council leader Miles Parkinson says the borough’s ‘Punch and Judy’ style politics must stop, but opponents fear a lack of democratic accountability.
Coun Parkinson said: “It’s a fact that 20 per cent of councillors have taken libel action against one another.
“If you applied that to the population of Hyndburn, 20 per cent of 80,000 would be 16,000 people. We just need to calm down in the council chamber.
“We all like the Punch and Judy and Daily Mail stuff, but sometimes people overstep the mark and it’s not good that people representing the borough are taking libel action against each other.”
But the council leader’s Conservative predecessor Coun Peter Britcliffe rejects the idea. He said: “It was unheard of a few years ago, but once these things happen other people start to bite back.
“I have been involved in a case involving copyright and I once issued a point of clarification about something I said in the chamber. But I don’t think people are running round suing each other as much now.”
Independent group leader Nick Collingridge said he had no objection to the new format.
He added that his group had not been involved in libel actions. “If it wasn’t so silly it would be amusing. They’ve let things get out of hand,” he said.
The first meeting under the new format was due to be held on Thursday night, June 30.
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