Our specialist governance lawyers include some of our most highly qualified and longest serving members of staff. Our clients include local authorities, other public bodies, and voluntary sector organisations. nplaw provides them all with expert advice on their constitutions, governance and ethics.
Our former Practice Director, Victoria McNeill, had the role of lead counsel on governance in relation to the devolution proposals for East Anglia which, after much controversy, were finally discontinued in November 2016. Victoria was involved from March 2016 when the original proposals were announced in the budget. She advised on the many governance challenges involved, including advice on:
- the Governance Review, which concluded that the most effective way to improve statutory functions across East Anglia was through the creation of two Mayoral Combined Authorities;
- the Scheme of Governance for the separate devolution deal for Norfolk and Suffolk published in June 2016; and
- the public consultation undertaken by twelve of Norfolk and Suffolk’s sixteen local authorities.
Before the Government took the decision to discontinue the proposals, Victoria also worked on a draft Order for the creation of a Mayoral Combined Authority, and on a draft constitution and framing options for the operational set up and running of the combined authority. Victoria is now Norfolk County Council’s Chief Legal Officer but, as such, is still involved with us and available to give us the benefit of her expertise.
Our clients come in a variety of legal forms. Local authorities are “corporations aggregate”. Their subsidiary undertakings may be companies limited by shares or by guarantee, or community interest companies (CICs). Many charities are also companies limited by guarantee, CICs or charitable incorporated organisations (CIOs). Other charities take the form of trusts. All will have a founding document – a constitution, memorandum and articles of association or trust deed. nplaw can prepare and advise on all these types of constitution, as well as on standing orders and internal governance documents.
A significant constitutional change on which nplaw recently advised, was the change by Norfolk County Council from executive arrangements (with a leader and a cabinet) to a committee system. We undertook detailed technical analysis of the existing and proposed decision making processes and drafted new constitutional documents in compliance with applicable regulations. The Local Government Act 2000 and regulations made under it prescribed a rigorous methodology and timetable for the change, and implementation was carried out within a tight time scale. The new governance regime came into effect on the planned date. We have now been instructed on a similar matter by Great Yarmouth Borough Council.
Ethics and standards
We advise members, officers and employees on ethics and standards, and prepare and review codes of conduct. We also work with standards committees and Independent Persons on conduct cases. For example, we recently advised Norfolk’s Police and Crime Panel on the proposal that the Police and Crime Commissioner should step down from his duties pending the outcome of an investigation into a complaint about his expenses. The case raised difficult issues of law relating to the duties of the holder of public office at common law and under the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011. In an atmosphere of heightened public scrutiny, nplaw assisted the Police and Crime Panel to a successful and mutually satisfactory resolution of the case.
Our governance lawyers also advise on:
- elections, petitions and local polls;
- community governance reviews and their implementation;
- public law matters such as assets of community value, coastal protection and common land;
- the use of wholly-owned local authority companies, charitable bodies and other project vehicles for specific purposes;
- information law including the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, the Data Protection Act 1998 and the Environmental Information Regulations 2004;
- pending legislative change and how it might affect our clients.
The specialist role of monitoring officer under the Local Government and Housing Act 1989 is one which nplaw has very much made its own niche practice. Four of our lawyers are monitoring officers to local authority clients, and we also advise other client authorities on this key role. Our lawyers pool their expertise so that advice can be given quickly and without the need to resort to counsel. Monitoring officers are seconded to our client authorities and work closely with their chief executives, as well as providing advice at meetings of council, cabinet and standards committees.
We provide bespoke training on law and governance to our clients’ members, officers and employees on request.