Belfast Telegraph

Belfast councillor subject of 'unprecedented' number of complaints, court hears

Jolene Bunting is appealing the decision taken to suspend her before the completion of a probe into her behaviour.
Jolene Bunting is appealing the decision taken to suspend her before the completion of a probe into her behaviour.

By Alan Erwin

A Belfast councillor who was suspended pending the outcome of a standards watchdog investigation is the subject of an "unprecedented" number of complaints, the High Court has heard.

Independent representative Jolene Bunting is appealing the decision taken to suspend her before the completion of a probe into her behaviour.

In September last year, the Local Government Commissioner for Standards suspended Ms Bunting for four months. That was subsequently lifted until the legal challenge is determined.

Her suspension followed 14 complaints, some said to relate to public statements about the Islamic religion, her association with the far-right group Britain First, and a meme she shared on social media.

She is accused of a number of breaches the councillors' code of conduct.

Opening the appeal on Monday, lawyers for Ms Bunting argued that she has freedom of expression protection under the European Convention on Human Rights.

Issues were also raised about the evidence required to establish a prima facie breach of the code of conduct.

Bobbie-Leigh Herdman, for the councillor, stressed she has never been charged by police or faced potential criminal sanctions.

But during the hearing Mr Justice Maguire pointed out: "The number of allegations in this case, what has been referred to in the documents, is unprecedented.

"Some of them seem quite serious on the face of it."

The court heard one complaint related to an incident filmed outside Belfast's Islamic Centre and then posted online.

Gordon Anthony, representing the Commissioner for Standards, contended that the decision was based on the combined complaints.

"The approach taken was that there's been such a rash of these complaints we can take them together cumulatively," he said.

Mr Justice Maguire insisted that he wanted to study videos of all the recorded incidents.

"I think I should definitely see all of this evidence," he confirmed.

The appeal was adjourned for the necessary viewing arrangements to be made.

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