The Nature of a Local Council
A local, or Parish Council is composed of a chairman and councillors. The number of councillors is fixed by the district council. In England it must not be less than five. If a local council resolves to call itself the town council the chairman is entitled to be called the mayor.
As a body corporate the council is a person and distinct from its members either as individuals or collectively. Its assets, acts and liabilities are its own and not those of its members.
Eligibility for office
A person is qualified to stand for office if he/she is a British subject or citizen of the Irish Republic or other Euronational, is over 21, and is an elector. In addition he/she will be qualified if he/she has either during the whole of the twelve months before the day on which he is nominated as a candidate, or the day of the election, resided in the parish or within 3 miles of it or occupied as owner or tenant any land or premises therein or had his/her principal place of work there. One effect of these rules is that it is possible to be a member of more than one local council.
A person may be disqualified from being elected or being a member in a number of ways:
- Holding paid office in the gift or disposal of the council
- Bankruptcy and execution of compositions arrangements with creditors create disqualifications which date from the judgment and end when the debts have been paid in full or when the bankruptcy has been annulled for error or discharged with a certificate that it was caused by mere misfortune. In other cases the disqualification ceases five years after discharge or fulfillment of the deed of composition or arrangement.
- A person may be disqualified by order of the court if it holds him/her responsible for incurring or authorising illegal expenditure exceeding £2,000.
- A person is disqualified if he/she has within five years before the election or since the election been convicted in the United Kingdom, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man of any offence and has been sentenced to not less than three months’ imprisonment (whether suspended or not) without the option of a fine.
- Finally a person may be disqualified under any enactment relating to corrupt or illegal practices. The name of any such person will be found in a special list which must be published with the electoral register.
How to Attain Office
A suitably qualified person may become a member of a local council in five different ways. These are:
- Ordinary election
- Co-option to a casual vacancy
- Appointment by the district council
- Return after a successful election petition
- Ordinary Election
Each candidate must be nominated on a separate nomination paper stating his/her full name, place of residence and description. The returning officer (appointed by the district council) must supply nomination papers and prepare them for signature on request. Each nomination paper must be signed by a proposer and seconder (subscribers) who must be electors for the locality or, if it is divided into wards, of the relevant ward for which the candidate is nominated. A nomination is void unless the candidate consents in writing.
If there are enough vacancies for the validly surviving candidates the returning officer must, not later than 11 o’clock on the day of the election, declare them elected. If their number exceeds the number of vacancies, a poll must be held by the method of secret ballot. If there is a tie, the returning officer must decide by lot.
A bye-election of the whole council can occur when a local council comes into existence in some year other than the year in which district councillor for the locality is elected, and when an entire election is declared void and lastly when a new election is ordered by the district council under its ‘reserve power’.
A bye-election to a particular vacancy occurs either where the membership of a local council has been increased during the term of office of the existing members or where a bye-election to fill a casual vacancy has been claimed. The vacancies in newly created offices are not ‘casual’ and must therefore be filled in any of the ways in which vacancies are filled at or immediately after the ordinary elections.
Bye-elections are conducted in the same way as ordinary elections.
A casual vacancy is deemed to have occurred:
- When a local councillor fails to make his declaration of acceptance of office within the proper time or
- When his notice of resignation is received; or
- On the day of his death; or
- In the case of disqualification by conviction or an order under the 1972 Act; or
- In the case of an election being declared void; or
- Where a person ceases to become disqualified, or becomes disqualified for any reason other than conviction or an order, or is persistently absent from meetings, upon the date when his office is declared vacant by the High Court or council as the case may be.
After the vacancy has been declared, it must be publicly notified in the usual manner. If a poll is claimed by ten electors a bye-election takes place within 60 days of the notice of vacancy. If not poll is claimed in time, the council fills the vacancy by co-option as soon as is practicable. It must do this, if the period of vacancy has six months or more to run. It may, but is not bound to do so, if less.
The Reserve Powers of the District Council
A district council has far-reaching powers designed to prevent such breakdowns as may result from a local council being improperly constituted in the first instance for reasons other than shortage of candidates or the abandonment of a poll, or from its becoming unable to act at a later stage.