City of Melville proposes making it easier for councillors to access legal aid

The City of Melville is considering an update of its Legal Representation Policy.
The City of Melville is considering an update of its Legal Representation Policy.

THE prickly relationship between the community and the City of Melville has prompted the proposed beef-up of the City’s Legal Representation Policy, according to chief executive Shayne Silcox.

The policy offers guidance on the level of assistance offered to councillors and City employees who become involved in legal proceeding in the course of their jobs.

A report put to councillors at an agenda briefing on Tuesday recommended a number of updates to the existing document.

The two key talking points on the night related to assistance provided to staff looking to address threatening or inappropriate behaviour and help in defamation cases.

Dr Silcox said the current policy was too tame and that the updates would help support staff in potentially dangerous situations.

“The issue mainly for me is less about defamation. I’d take most of it on the chin,” he said.

“But what does worry me is when people turn up at staff addresses unannounced and unsolicited.

“There needs to be protection for our staff.”

He said there had been numerous times when City staff had been confronted at their doorstep.

“That is inappropriate, that is unsafe and the City must take immediate action when that occurs,” he said.

“We also have instances where inappropriate behaviour has occurred (against) female staff and it must be dealt with immediately and efficiently by the City.”

A proposed change to general principal 1C would allow the City, “in exceptional circumstances”, to offer financial assistance to staff taking defamation action “in regard to comments or criticisms levelled at their conduct in their respective roles”.

It would also allow the City, at the discretion of the CEO, to seek preliminary advice worth up to $5000.

Under the current policy, both are unavailable.

Councillors Nick Pazolli and Tim Barling both questioned what exceptional circumstances meant, given it was not defined in the list of definitions attached to the policy draft.

Melville’s governance and legal services executive manager Louis Hitchcock said the preliminary advice from a legal representative would help determine the “difficult topic on what is exceptional circumstances” before any legal action was taken further.

Dr Silcox admitted these particular cases were tough, given “there’s a higher level that is applied unfairly to government officers as opposed to a general member of the public”.

The limit on legal representation costs for individual matters would be capped at $10,000, although further applications could be made.

The money would not be automatic, with an application process in place.

Any amount recovered in proceedings would be “offset against any monies paid or payable by the City” the report to councillors read.

The council will vote on the item on April 17.

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