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Free speech, huge bills?

Betsan Powys | 09:26 UK time, Thursday, 18 September 2008

"If you were born in Cardiff, why didn't your parents call you Betsan South Glamorgan?"

A question endured in school over and again but now, of course, I know the answer. As Christopher Glamorgan has proven, it would have been too dangerous a name to adopt.

Who is Christopher? He is - or was - a civil servant of many years, employed by the Welsh Assembly Government and who was sacked as a result of publishing an anonymous blog.

Whether the case against him stands up or not has been a matter of some discussion in parts of the Welsh blogosphere (particularly here) already.

For what it's worth, this is what I know.

The latest suggestion is that his tribunal case is going ahead, that it's unlikely to be heard until next year but that it will be discussed in an internal meeting, presumably in government offices in Cathays Park, next week.

Why was he sacked?

His thoughts on "Who would be a leader in a wicked, wicked world" drew the attention of someone in Cathays Park in July of last year. A flurry of confidential Emails started:

"This is the blog I mentioned earlier - reading it all and the profile places the individual in the Bay picking up plenty of insider stuff on WAG".

The then Permanent Secretary, Sir Jon Shortridge, gets involved.

"The Permanent Secretary has asked me to check if any emails have gone out to this blog site (or if people apart from ... have browsed). The site has contained some detail which may have links with leak enquiries".

He was sacked and and as things stand is taking his case to tribunal, despite his union, the PCS, heeding advice they've been given that he has some mountain to climb, such a mountain, carrying the threat of such a big bill at the end, that they've decided he must climb it alone.

Solicitors acting for the government don't mince their words. In letters I've had sight of they sum up the conclusions of the Employment Judge (and bear in mind I'm quoting their own summing up here, not quotes from a transcript) like this:

the "claim has little reasonable prospect of success", the blog was "contrary to the civil service code" and "has the potential to cause an embarrassment to the Welsh Assembly Government", therefore breaking the code. Had 'Christopher Glamorgan' been guilty of "excessive internet abuse and potential copyright infringement" alone the judge seems to conclude that a final written warning would have been enough. However the blog, "the most serious of the issues", means dismissal "would fall within the band of reasonable responses available to a reasonable employer".

The letter ends on what I'll call a blunt note: go ahead and we'll apply for a full costs order against you, one that covers all fees, charges, disbursements and expenses incurred by WAG.

Give in now and we won't.

Comments

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  • 1. At 6:13pm on 18 Sep 2008, Negrin wrote:

    Doesn't look too clever for him if the union won't back him at Employment Tribunal. I do however think that WAG is wrong to threaten him with costs if he goes ahead with his claim. Tribunals are renowned for NOT awarding costs against applicants unless the claim is an absolute no hoper.

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  • 2. At 6:27pm on 18 Sep 2008, John Henry wrote:


    Freedom of Speech in the Assembly, an Oxymoron methinks.

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  • 3. At 6:57pm on 18 Sep 2008, Crossroads wrote:

    Surely most people would agree that if Mr. Glamorgan told only the truth, committed no libel, and did not risk any lives, he should not be charged.

    But there again, just look who's doing the prosecuting.

    Theres far too much secrecy in government as it is without the power crazed bastards coming down this hard on some long standing civil servant who genuinely thought something should be made public.

    No wonder only a few of us bother voting nowadays.

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  • 4. At 6:59pm on 18 Sep 2008, Crossroads wrote:

    Surely most people would agree that if Mr. Glamorgan told only the truth, committed no libel, and did not risk any lives, he should not be charged.

    But there again, just look who's doing the prosecuting.

    There's far too much secrecy in government as it is without the power crazed bastards coming down this hard on some long standing civil servant who genuinely thought something should be made public.

    No wonder only a few of us bother voting nowadays.

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  • 5. At 7:07pm on 18 Sep 2008, John Henry wrote:


    This is not just WAG, H.M Revenue and Customs also threaten claimant's at Employment Tribunal's with huge legal costs if he/she goes ahead with a claim.

    Smacks of bullying, playground that is, doesn't it Rhodri, doesn't it Ieuan.

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  • 6. At 7:11pm on 18 Sep 2008, Valleysmam wrote:

    I really like Christopher G's blog, there was never anything to cause embarresment in it.
    It was witty and well written.
    I think to be sacked is crazy, they should have promoted him and given him the job of promoting the Government, it would have appealed to a lot more people.
    Why is WAG so frightened of bloggers

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  • 7. At 8:04pm on 18 Sep 2008, mattwardman wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 8. At 9:57pm on 18 Sep 2008, Lyn David Thomas wrote:

    I don't think this is an assembly related issue, we have seen this happen elsewhere in Government, local, national and UK wide act to suppress blogs that they think might be critical or even that others might possibly think are critical. I also know that it is fairly common in private industry to prohibit employees to say anything that management would consider in anyway critical of themselves in a public forum. The truth is that commercial organisations as well as public bodies seem to be overly sensitive of any comment which might possibly be construed in any way of showing them in a less that 100% good light. That goes for things that we would consider completely innocuous.

    Its sad but true.

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  • 9. At 07:39am on 19 Sep 2008, mattwardman wrote:

    Note to moderator: This comment was rejected before on the basis of "the copyright appears to be owned by someone else". The Civil Service Code is Crown Copyright, and as such repoduction is explicitly permitted and encouraged, as per the Terms and Conditions on http://new.wales.gov.uk/terms_and_conditions/?lang=en. Further the text I quoted is directly germane and adds value to the conversation at hand. Accordingly there is no copyright problem, and I request that you permit the comment. ------------------------------ Well, Betsan. Here's the Welsh Civil Service Code June 2007 Edition, in all it's 1063 word glory. I can't see anything here that a blog that "has the potential to cause embarrassment to the WAG" (i.e., a putative crime not committed yet) an offence. I can't see anything that makes actually causing that embarrassment an offence, since the highest obligation is to public service (not "WAG service"). I can see that using insider information for political purposes is a problem, but that is not mentioned as proven. What do your readers think? Matt Wardman ------------------------------------------------------ (reproduced from WAG site as encouraged by their Terms of Use and explicitly permitted by Crown Copyright). Link: http://tinyurl.com/welshcsc Civil Service Values 1. The Civil Service is an integral and key part of the government of the United Kingdom(1). It supports the Government of the day in developing and implementing its policies, and in delivering public services. Civil servants are accountable to Ministers(2). They are in turn accountable to the National Assembly for Wales(3). 2. As a civil servant, you are appointed on merit on the basis of fair and open competition and are expected to carry out your role with dedication and a commitment to the Civil Service and its core values: integrity, honesty, objectivity and impartiality. In this Code: * ‘integrity’ is putting the obligations of public service above your own personal interests; * ‘honesty’ is being truthful and open; * ‘objectivity’ is basing your advice and decisions on rigorous analysis of the evidence; and * ‘impartiality’ is acting solely according to the merits of the case and serving equally well Governments of different political persuasions.' 3. These core values support good government and ensure the achievement of the highest possible standards in all that the Civil Service does. This in turn helps the Civil Service to gain and retain the respect of Ministers, the National Assembly for Wales, the public and its customers. 4. This Code(4) sets out the standards of behaviour expected of you and all other civil servants. These are based on the core values. *** Standards of behaviour Integrity 5. You must: fulfil your duties and obligations responsibly; always act in a way that is professional(5) and that deserves and retains the confidence of all those with whom you have dealings; make sure public money and other resources are used properly and efficiently; deal with the public and their affairs fairly, efficiently, promptly, effectively and sensitively, to the best of your ability; handle information as openly as possible within the legal framework; and comply with the law and uphold the administration of justice. 6. You must not: misuse your official position, for example by using information acquired in the course of your official duties to further your private interests or those of others; accept gifts or hospitality or receive other benefits from anyone which might reasonably be seen to compromise your personal judgement or integrity; or disclose official information without authority. This duty continues to apply after you leave the Civil Service. *** Honesty 7. You must: set out the facts and relevant issues truthfully, and correct any errors as soon as possible; and use resources only for the authorised public purposes for which they are provided. 8. You must not: deceive or knowingly mislead Ministers, the National Assembly for Wales or others; or be influenced by improper pressures from others or the prospect of personal gain. *** Objectivity 9. You must: provide information and advice, including advice to Ministers, on the basis of the evidence, and accurately present the options and facts; take decisions on the merits of the case; and take due account of expert and professional advice. 10. You must not: ignore inconvenient facts or relevant considerations when providing advice or making decisions; or frustrate the implementation of policies once decisions are taken by declining to take, or abstaining from, action which flows from those decisions. Impartiality 11. You must: carry out your responsibilities in a way that is fair, just and equitable and reflects the Civil Service commitment to equality and diversity. 12. You must not: act in a way that unjustifiably favours or discriminates against particular individuals or interests. *** Political Impartiality 13. You must: serve the Government, whatever its political persuasion, to the best of your ability in a way which maintains political impartiality and is in line with the requirements of this Code, no matter what your own political beliefs are; act in a way which deserves and retains the confidence of Ministers, while at the same time ensuring that you will be able to establish the same relationship with those whom you may be required to serve in some future Government; and comply with any restrictions that have been laid down on your political activities. 14. You must not: act in a way that is determined by party political considerations, or use official resources for party political purposes; or allow your personal political views to determine any advice you give or your actions. *** Rights and responsibilities 15. The Welsh Assembly Government has a duty to make you aware of this Code and its values. If you believe that you are being required to act in a way which conflicts with this Code, the Welsh Assembly Government will consider your concern, and make sure that you are not penalised for raising it. 16. If you have a concern, you should start by talking to your line manager or someone else in your line management chain. If for any reason you would find this difficult, you should raise the matter with the Welsh Assembly Government’s nominated officers who have been appointed to advise staff on the Code. 17 If you become aware of actions by others which you believe conflict with this Code you should report this to your line manager or someone else in your line management chain; alternatively you may wish to seek advice from your nominated officers. You should report evidence of criminal or unlawful activity to the police or other appropriate authorities. 18. If you have raised a matter covered in paragraphs 15 to 17, in accordance with the relevant procedures(6), and do not receive what you consider to be a reasonable response, you may report the matter to the Civil Service Commissioners7. The Commissioners will also consider taking a complaint direct. Their address is: 3rd Floor, 35 Great Smith Street, London SW1P 3BQ. Tel: [Personal details removed by Moderator] email: ocsc@civilservicecommissioners.gov.uk If the matter cannot be resolved using the procedures set out above, and you feel you cannot carry out the instructions you have been given, you will have to resign from the Civil Service. 19. This Code is part of the contractual relationship between you and your employer. It sets out the high standards of behaviour expected of you which follow from your position in public and national life as a civil servant. You can take pride in living up to these values. June 2007 *** Notes 1. This Code applies to all Home civil servants who are members of staff of the Welsh Assembly Government. Other Home civil servants have their own versions of the Code. Similar Codes apply to the Northern Ireland Civil Service and the Diplomatic Service. 2. In this version of the Code, "Ministers" means the First Minister for Wales, the Welsh Ministers, Deputy Welsh Ministers and the Counsel General to the Welsh Assembly Government. The Counsel General to the Welsh Assembly Government may not be an Assembly Member but he/she may participate in Assembly proceedings. 3. Constitutionally, civil servants are servants of the Crown. The Crown’s executive powers are exercised by the UK Government on nondevolved matters and by the First Minister for Wales, the Welsh Ministers, Deputy Welsh Ministers, or the Counsel General to the Welsh Assembly Government on devolved matters in relation to Wales. 4. The respective responsibilities placed on the First Minister for Wales, the Welsh Ministers, Deputy Welsh Ministers and the Counsel General to the Welsh Assembly Government and special advisers in relation to the Civil Service are set out in their Codes of Conduct: www.wales.gov.uk/civilservicecode 5. This includes taking account of ethical standards governing particular professions. 6. The whistleblowing legislation (the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998) may also apply in some circumstances. The Directory of Civil Service Guidance gives more information: www.wales.gov.uk/civilservicecode 7. The Civil Service Commissioners’ Appeals leaflet gives more information: www.civilservicecommissioners.gov.uk. This Code does not cover HR management issues.

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  • 10. At 4:12pm on 22 Sep 2008, Ty Du wrote:

    To translate matt - we know it's not allowed, we sign up to that (explicitly or implicitly) when we start working for the Civil Service, and we can't complain about it when we get caught out. Chris Glamorgan may have thought he was striking a blow for free speech, but he also knew that he was in breach of 'contract' - no sympathy from this civil servant, I'm afraid.

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  • 11. At 06:15am on 23 Sep 2008, john voisey wrote:

    The 'give up now and we waive the costs' gambit is hardly new, is it.

    This is, after all, the standard approach aken by the taxman for a start when they see somethinf they dislike, but where they forgot to write the law properly. Ask any small businssman who has been around for more than a year or so.

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  • 12. At 4:12pm on 24 Sep 2008, Strathclwyd wrote:

    It is really about time that the whistle-blowing individual, when threatened with punitive costs by an official, should be able to seek that the official who initiated the complaint be equally 'personally' liable for those same costs if the case goes against his department. That which is sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander!

    We are paying our officials to do the best for the public not for themselves, as is so often the case. If any one of them takes umbrage let us find out how outraged he/she is if he/she has to pay the costs when the case is judged in favour of the whistle-blower.

    In this particular case can the full details be made public, under the Freedom of Information Act, so that Jane and Joe Public will be able to assess how much of official time is spent covering individuals' backs.

    We are being let-down by our representatives and by our offi cials because of this 'protect my back and I will protect yours' syndrome. That is why the country is in the mess that it is today because officialdom is not up to the job. We should be encouraging the potential whistle-blower to speak up for the general public by giving him/her immunity from these rediculous threats by those whose pride may be dented.

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  • 13. At 06:25am on 27 Dec 2008, dennisjunior1 wrote:

    Betsan:
    It is true; when you have free speech, you have to be careful about slandering anyone else....with unknown or unfounded accusations....

    ~Dennis Junior~

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