Category Archives: Training

Legal Guidance for Councillor Blogs

As part of the training for the project Victoria McNeil put together a 2 page document providing some legal guidance for the blogging members.  It is mostly fairly obvious, but necessary, stuff such as observing the Members’ Code of Conduct and avoiding being libellous or obscene.  However the section on Bias and Pre-determination may help you avoid causing problems in later committees.

We’ve reproduced the text below and included the PDF for printing hard copies: Legal Guidance on Member Blogs

Legal guidance on Member Blogs

The following guidance is put together for members who have chosen to set up and run their own personal blogs. There is clear distinction between member information published by the County Council, such as the member pages on the Council’s website, and member blogs which are the sole responsibility of the individual member.

There are important reasons for this distinction. Material published by the Authority is, for obvious reasons, restricted in terms of content. It must not contain party political material and, in relation to other material, should not persuade the public to a particular view, promote the personal image of a particular Councillor, promote an individual Councillor’s proposals, decisions or recommendations, or personalise issues. Nor should the Council assist in the publication of any material that does any of the above.

Nonetheless the County Council takes the view that member blogs can make a positive contribution to improving community engagement and leadership. And for this reason members have accessed external blog specialists to help them set up their own blogs.

The following is a brief guide to some of the legal pitfalls for members in establishing their own personal blogs. Almost all of these can be avoided if the content of your blog is objective, balanced, informative and accurate.

Members’ Code of Conduct

Aspects of the Members’ Code of Conduct will apply to blogs. Members should comply with the general principles of the Code in what they publish (and what they allow others to publish).

Blogging members need to be particularly aware of the following provisions:

  • treat others with respect. Avoid personal attacks and disrespectful or rude or offensive comments
  • comply with equality laws. Avoid publishing anything that might be considered sexist, racist, ageist, homophobic or anti-faith
  • refrain from publishing anything you have received in confidence
  • ensure you don’t bring the Council, or you Councillor role, into disrepute.

Members of the public (or other members or officers) may make a complaint about you if you offend the Code of Conduct and that complaint, and the sanctions that may be imposed, will be considered by the Standards Committee.


If you publish an untrue statement about a person which is damaging to their reputation they may take a libel action against you. This will also apply if you allow someone else to publish something libellous on your website if you know about it and don’t take prompt action to remove it. A successful libel claim against you will result in an award of damages against you.


Placing images or text on your site from a copyrighted source (e.g. extracts from publications, photos etc) without permission is likely to breach copyright. Avoid publishing anything you are unsure about or seek permission in advance. Breach of copyright may result in an award of damages against you.

Data Protection

Avoid publishing the personal data of individuals unless you have their express written permission.

Bias and Pre-determination

If you are involved in determining planning or licensing application or other quasi-judicial decisions, avoid publishing anything on your blog that might suggest you don’t have an open mind about a matter you may be involved in determining. If not, the decision runs the risk of being invalidated.

Obscene material

It goes without saying that you should avoid publishing anything in your blog that people would consider obscene. Publication of obscene material is a criminal offence.

This guidance is aimed at giving a general overview of the legal issues to be aware of in publishing your own blog. Further explanation can be obtained from the Head of Law/Monitoring Officer but Councillors should be aware that the content of their blogs is their own responsibility. If the content is objective, balanced, informative and accurate, and you maintain and demonstrate an open mind on any matters on which you may be called upon as a member to make a decision, you substantially reduce the possibility of a successful legal challenge to the content being made.

Victoria McNeill

Head of Law and Monitoring Officer


Libel and Defamation Law for Bloggers

Royal Courts of JusticeIt’s an area all bloggers would rather not get involved in, but it is best to be aware of the principles of libel and how it applies to you as a blogger.  Mike Butcher, has written a very useful and informative guide to Libel and Defamation Law for bloggers.  Read it and bookmark it.

Councillors should of course pay equal attention to the Standards Board Code of Conduct and your own council’s code of conduct.  ICELE produced some useful guidance which you can download.

Council officers might also refer to the Civil Servant social media guidelines recently published by the Cabinet Office.  They are succinct but useful.

Guide to using Social Media – for Civil Servants

The Cabinet Office released “Participation online Guidance for civil servants” today. It has been some time in gestation but the really good news is that it is only one page long. In fact the guidance has been boiled down to 5 main points and a paragraph on how it relates to the Civil Service Code.

In summary,

1. Be credible
2. Be consistent
3. Be responsive
4. Be integrated

5. Be a civil servant

The Power of Information Taskforce (don’t ask who they might be) is looking for feedback. I hope they pick it up from here.

It is good excellent.

And others think so too.

Cross-posted from

An Afternoon in Norwich

Andrew In NorwichHello, my name is Andrew, and most of the time I blog at Someday I Will Treat You Good, which is a blog that (0n the whole) deals with issues that are local to where I live; Lewisham in South East London. The photo on the right is me.

Along with Shane I spent last Wednesday afternoon meeting with 4 of the 7 councillors from Norfolk County Council who have been asked to take part in our project, Cllr 2.0, and a number of council officers who are helping make the project work.

We were there to explain a little bit about what we are hoping to do – encourage councillors and other civic leaders to use blogs to communicate with the public – and to hopefully give the councillors confidence that they could get some benefit from becoming bloggers.

My role in this is as someone who was – until May last year – a blogging councillor, and so aware of some of the advantages and pitfalls of taking on a blog.

Cllrs from NorfolkShane began with a presentation about the various ways elected representatives are using the web to develop their relationship with constituents, everything from participating on online forums, being available through social networking sites like Facebook, and participating in online events like LifeSwap, through to having their own website and blog.

My presentation focused on my own experiences and the lessons I’d learned over the 4 and a half years I’ve been blogging about my community.

These are the bullet point notes I’d made to accompany the presentation:

  • Councillor in Lewisham for 9 years
  • Increasingly unhappy about traditional communications
    • Many of the same faces at public meetings and surgeries
    • Doorstep campaigning left voters with very partial view of us; vote hungry, point scoring, and divorsed from real life
  • At the same time I started reading about blogs and became a lurker.
  • Saw Stewart Bruce (first councillor to blog) and Tom Watson’s blogs
  • Joined Lewisham Council’s cabinet in December 2003
  • Started a blog in February 2004
    • Didn’t ask permission from Mayor, Chief Whip or fellow ward councillors
    • It’s my role as a politician to communicate with the electorate
    • But did think about what and how I’d write
  • Rules I set myself
    • Be positive
    • Be engaged with the wider bloggersphere
    • Be accountable
    • Remember your audience – the public, your colleagues, your opponents and the press
    • Admit your mistakes early – “its not the crime its the cover-up that gets you”
    • Don’t edit posts to make yourself look better
    • Encourage feedback

I’ll add the slides from the presentation once I can load them up to SlideShare.

Update – Here are the slides I used to illustrate the talk I gave