The Local Government Association and the Welsh Local Government Association have published a guide for local councillors on how to manage and protect themselves against increasing incidents of intimidation.
Written in partnership with Winckworth Sherwood, the guide provides guidance on managing physical and online abuse, together with the legal and practical remedies open to councillors.
The law firm said the guide was being published “against a background of increasing and worrying physical and online intimidation and abuse that has seen one councillor have her car overturned by a disgruntled individual driving a forklift, another councillor having armed police accompany them to meetings with local residents, and another resorting to wearing a bodycam”.
The Councillors’ Guidance to Handling Intimidation includes detailed advice on:
- Personal safety at ward surgeries, lone working, attendance at meetings and home visits;
- Managing, reporting and blocking abuse on social media;
- How local authorities can support councillors; and
- What the law says around balancing freedom of speech and its limitations, and on physical intimidation.
Simon Randall, a former councillor and local government specialist at the law firm Winckworth Sherwood responsible for putting the guide together, said: “Becoming and serving as a councillor is a responsibility, a privilege and a hugely rewarding undertaking.
“Yet we are aware that an increasing number of councillors and candidates are being subjected to abuse, threats and public intimidation, undermining the principles of free speech, democratic engagement and debate. The growth of social media has provided an additional and largely anonymous route for individuals and groups to engage in such activity.
“The law is very clear. Threats to kill, rape, of serious violence, stalking and damage to property are all criminal offences. Intimidating behaviour whether face to face, online, by letter or telephone is also a criminal offence. They should be reported. Even if it does not result in a criminal investigation or conviction it is important that the collective scale if the issue is reported.”
Cllr James Jamieson, Chairman of the Local Government Association, said: “Councillors are used to the rough and tumble of politics, but assaults, threats and abuse, harassment and intimidation directed at councillors is unacceptable and undermine the integrity of the democratic process.
“We are concerned that such behaviour may actively be discouraging people from putting themselves forward to stand as councillors. This is a real shame as no one should feel intimidated should they wish to take on the important role of representing their community.
“We need to send a strong and consistent message that attacks on public servants will not be tolerated and this guide suggests steps councillors and their councils can take to protect themselves and how to respond should an incident occur.”
In addition to producing the guide, the Local Government Association is planning further guidance for councils on supporting councillors. It also plans to continue to work with national government and other agencies to address the issue of public intimidation and its impact on local democracy.