January 29, 2019

Councillor suspended for 5 months following drink-drive offence

The Northern Ireland Local Government Commissioner for Standards has imposed a 5 month suspension on Councillor Thomas Hogg (Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council) following an Adjudication Hearing held in Belfast (28 January 2019).

The Commissioner found that Councillor Hogg had breached Paragraph 4.2 of the Local Government Code of Conduct (the Code) for his conduct leading to a drink driving conviction in May 2018.

Paragraph 4.2 states that councillors must not bring their position as a councillor, or their council, into disrepute.

In deciding on a sanction, the Commissioner noted a number of mitigating factors in the councillor’s favour, including his previous good service and compliance with the Code.

She also highlighted Councillor Hogg’s co-operation with the investigation from an early stage and his request for an expedited adjudication hearing. This co-operation led to a significant reduction in the amount of time needed for the adjudication proceedings, resulting in a saving to the public purse.

However, the Commissioner also accepted that there were aggravating factors in this case.

She noted that Councillor Hogg was aware that he was substantially over the limit but made a deliberate decision to drive. She stressed the seriousness of drink-driving, and the potential consequences of such an offence.

In considering the level of sanction to apply, the Commissioner stated it was important to uphold public confidence in local representatives and the standards regime.

She referenced the similarities with a case from 2018 involving a councillor from Newry, Mourne and Down District Council. This resulted in a suspension for the councillor of 6 months, a decision which was upheld by the High Court on appeal.

Given the mitigating factors involved in this case, in particular the level of co-operation shown by Councillor Hogg in both the investigation and adjudication proceedings, the Commissioner decided to impose a suspension period of 5 months.

The suspension is to begin on Monday 4th February and will continue until the end of Councillor Hogg’s term of office.