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Returning Officer Removed, Court to Discuss

Feb 27 2007 10:57
Ashley Brown
The Returning Officer in the sabbatical elections was removed by the executive committee in a closed-session meeting, but the decision has been appealed to the Court.
The heads of ICU exec are considerably thicker than that white cloth...

After much confusion over what happened at closed-session exec meetings, concern that they should not have been closed session and the elections descending into a total farce, the Union Court has revealed more information.

In a meeting on 22nd February, the Executive Committee voted to remove John Collins as returning officer, following a complaint by a candidate. Eric Lai, the Deputy R.O., took on the job at that point. As previously noted, Mr Collins took this decision badly, however has been overheard saying that he "would not be taking it further".

Mr Collins has not escalated the decision, however it was referred to the Union Court by RCSU President Jad Marrouche (who did not attend the original meeting), on the grounds that the decision was not made fairly.

On Thursday evening at 18:30 the Union Court will meet in open session to discuss the manner in which the decision was made. The concerns are:

  • Insufficient time was given to consider the matter (exec met for over two hours)
  • Conflicts of interest: as previously discussed, members of exec are either running for election or have seconded candidates
  • Relevant evidence unavailable: this presumably refers to the original complaint
  • Procedural irregularities: otherwise known as "insufficient skill in hackery"

The Court may quash the decision of the executive, restoring John Collins as returning officer. At this time elections will have closed, so the effect either way will be negligible. The Court has suggested that the election could be re-run if serious irregularities were found, however this looks doubtful. The final option is to keep the decision as it is, with Eric Lai remaining as returning officer.

Until this is heard the decision stands, Eric Lai is returning officer and point of contact for candidates, should they wish to speak in person.

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Discussion about “Returning Officer Removed, Court to Discuss”

The comments below are unmoderated submissions by Live! readers. The Editor accepts no liability for their content, nor for any offence caused by them. Any complaints should be directed to the Editor.
Feb 27 2007 11:58

"Insufficient time was given to consider the matter (exec met for over two hours)"

But does this mean in the meeting or before it?

Considering the two weeks' preparation time recently witnessed for a DPFS facing removal from office, one would hope that a returning officer facing removal from office (especially when also holding a sabbatical position that some people might call into question following removal as RO) would be given at least a couple of days' notice to prepare his case.

Feb 27 2007 12:07

I believe the President, as chair, sets the time of an exec meeting. Three members of the executive may call one, to be held within 2 days. This may be wrong of course.

Feb 27 2007 14:05

Who made a complaint???

4. Simon   
Feb 27 2007 15:08

It could be said that by the nature of the situation, given that elections are live NOW, having a decision now rather than in 2 weeks time would be considered a reasonable idea...... removing the Returning Officer AFTER the election would be a little...... silly....

Given that the Council meeting on the DPGS (not DPFS "clarification") issue laster 3 and a bit hours (including a brief break), which was an issue of whether a paid union officer should be removed from her job, with 100+ pages of evidence submitted, it could be said that 2hrs for a elections complaint isnt exactly "insufficient".

Court has the final ruling on election disputes, one of the reasons it is there, and there are pleanty of hardcore hacks there that anything procedural will be picked up, and most of them are probably independant enough to give a fair verdict.

18:30 Thurs...... i guess THATS why they pushed the Council meeting back then.....

5. Smith   
Feb 27 2007 19:10

I am not really sure, how court or any other dispute body could do anything about this now - reinstate John Collins as returning officer, so how does that help?

6. pg   
Feb 27 2007 19:16

Because it clears his name - it doesn't help the elections process but it does help the sense of "justice". If the decision is unconstitutional and gets quashed then there's no "black mark", no matter how minor the situation actually is.

Unless of course Court decides that any irregularities were so small that they would not have affected the decision. Or the complainant realises that he's been treated as a puppet by certain people and withdraws the paper.

Feb 27 2007 19:25

Or the complainant realizes that he's been treated as a puppet by certain people and withdraws the paper- sounds like you know more about the mater than you are leting on, care to share?

8. pg   
Feb 27 2007 19:43

Someone not at a meeting brings a complaint against the way a meeting was conducted, including that there was a lack of evidence. How did he know there was a lack of evidence? He wasn't there and it was closed session.

Someone has been discussing this "closed session" with him - they must have done, or he wouldn't know what to complain about. That same person has probably put their own spin on it and recommended that it go to Court.

Now I don't know Jad personally, but seeing what he's done with the RCSU this year I very much doubt he's stupid enough to create a farce without some help.

Feb 27 2007 21:32

Obviously with such a sensitive area and so many of council involved in elections this needs to be discussed outside of the confines of Exec. Isn't this the kind of thing Court was set up for?

Feb 27 2007 21:59

I think is probably a reasonable use of the Court, however the correct appeal process is to go via Council in the first instance (that is considered the higher "supervisory authority" in the constitution.

Court was supposed to be a last resort which met infrequently. It's met more often in the last term than Council.

11. daff   
Feb 27 2007 22:46

the main point of taking this to court is for their clarification as to whether candidates should be able to vote on such a matter as the removal of the returning officer. council would not be the correct forum to discuss this as most of council are either standing or seconding (incluing NUS)

Feb 27 2007 23:02

From my understanding this NOT an appeal to the decision made by Exec but simply asking the Court for an interpretation of whether Exec was constitutional when it made the decision in the first place.

Reg 7:

The Court has jurisdiction over and in the following areas within the Union:


Disputes in individual elections or referenda,

A hearing in a case may be requested by the following people or bodies in the following circumstances, though standing orders may impose restrictions:

An interpretation, review or declaration may be requested by any member of t he Union or constituent part of the Union,

An appeal in an election or referendum dispute may be made by any candidate or elector in it,

Any appeal to the actual decision itself has to be made to Council according to Reg 2: 75.2

A challenge on the impartiality of a member of:

a non-sabbatical elections committee shall be adjudicated on by the supervisory authority, and

the elections committee in Sabbatical Officer and Felix Editor elections shall be adjudicated on by the Executive Committee, with an appeal to the Council whose decision is final.

John himself should not be able to appeal to Court because he was neither a candidate nor an elector.

What would be interesting to find out is, what will happen if Court does decide that the Executive was unconstitutional. Does Exec have to meet again to re-discuss the issue? As the article mentioned most them on Exec are conflicted because they are either a candidate or a seconder.

?Someone not at a meeting brings a complaint against the way a meeting was conducted, including that there was a lack of evidence. How did he know there was a lack of evidence? He wasn't there and it was closed session.?

Errrm? interesting question and that does question who ?actually? wrote the paper? Why doesn?t John just write to the Court himself to ask for clarification or even appeal to the decision of Exec to Council which he is entitled to do? Is it because it is easier to overturn Exec?s decision using the Court?

13. daff   
Feb 27 2007 23:10

of course jad found out about it, he is on exec and should have been at the meeting but to my understanding didn't know about it, people on exec are able to talk to each other about a closed session as long as its not in a public forum, especially in this instance when people were upset and turned to their friends.....

14. daff   
Feb 27 2007 23:17

Furthermore......... its not John who's flagging this up; its Jad and a number of seconders who are bringing this matter to court to make sure election processes don't become lax and that people involved now and in the future pull their socks up with regard to procedure.

15. daff   
Feb 27 2007 23:25

oh crikey its late and i keep forgetting points.....

In response to 'confused' the paper is indeed not an appeal of the decision but the request for clarification of whether correct procedure was adhered to.

Feb 28 2007 05:13

Can someone please remove ULU's returning officer? His handling of hustings on Monday was hilariously incompetent.

Feb 28 2007 08:54

I spoke to Jad yesterday and can see his point, although we had different views on the varying degrees of merit of each complaint... This is a perfectly sensible use of Court if there was no way of avoiding it.

Let's throw some other things into the mixing pot:

  1. there was an offer to recall exec, which would have removed the points in the complaint about procedure, lack of time to prepare and lack of relevant evidence.
  2. such an offer would have left only conflicts: should candidates be able to vote on the future of the returning officer?
  3. would the same request have been made if the R.O. had not been removed, even if the irregularities were there?

With regards to #2, it might be undesirable for them to do so but I don't believe the constitution forbids it as it stands. If we want to change that then the correct route is a constitutional amendment via Council, asking Court for advice. We could have avoided delaying the results: this issue doesn't affect them.

The offer to recall exec was not taken, now the Union looks inept. I don't necessarily agree with the decision made (but I did think a telling-off was in order), however there is a bigger picture.

We've accessed a large number of first and second years thanks to the people running. This has probably reinforced the view that the Union is full of hacks with huge egos who will bicker endlessly about points of procedure, even when it makes no difference to the organisation as a whole.

I'm sure the "slate" can walk away from this secure in the knowledge that they were right all along.

Feb 28 2007 09:02

Council is for questionning the decisions made.

Court is for questionning the processes by which they were made.

Sounds like the council members who voted Court into existence to avoid six-hour elections-farce Council meetings have changed their mind and actually WANT a six-hour-Council-meeting farce.

Feb 28 2007 09:28

Wait a minute. There was an offer to recall Exec? Why wasn't that taken? Who was that offered to? You really have to ask why wasn't that taken because surely that would have resolved pretty much everything. Sounds like someone wants to cause an election farce. Well done!!

Feb 28 2007 09:33

"but I did think a telling-off was in order"

Ashley: But do you think it is fair to carry on having a non impartial returning officer in an election. I believe that would be complete farce especially no is going to find out about it since it was discussed in closed session. Also from what Tris wrote in the other article, I am not too convinced that he is able to control his anger towards Kirsty after a warning, which would have made him even more non impartial.

Feb 28 2007 10:01

No it isn't fair to have a "non impartial" returning officer in an election. I didn't communicate my thoughts clearly. I was in favour of removal of the returning officer, but only because his anger was clouding his judgement, not because I felt he was deliberately "non impartial".

So I may or may not agree with it, depending on the basis of the actual decision. If it was because he was biased, then I don't agree. If it was because he let his anger get the better of him even after a couple of people had indicated he should calm down a bit, then I agree.

22. So...   
Feb 28 2007 10:32

...any candidate who doesn't like a returning officer basically just has to find a way to anger them, then say, "Oh look, they're angry with me and not the other candidates- that's bias! Sack them!"

(Not suggesting it was deliberate in this case, but still a dangerous precendent.)

Feb 28 2007 11:21

No, they have to make them so angry that they make more than one bad judgement, then say "they're angry and making bad decisions, someone with a cooler head should take over".

Jon Matthews took a lot of flak during the NUS refendum. He had several things said to him that upset him or made him angry.

Live! criticised him for impounding Guildsheet "unfairly", to which he expressed that he was "not very impressed" as he believed (and maintains) it was the correct decision. My response was something along the lines of "it is your right to not be impressed" and we agreed to disagree. No threats of disciplinary action for bringing the referendum into disrepute, all toys still in pram.

Feb 28 2007 13:12

[Edited at the request of the meeting chair because it discussed closed-session business]

Feb 28 2007 13:37

oops, sorry I forgot the point at which we closed the meeting. Thanks for the save

Mar 01 2007 14:05

ULU Observer - what has ULU's returning officer done and who is he/she?

Mar 02 2007 04:42

ULU's RO is Rev. Stephen Williams. I don't actually know where he came from or why he is the RO.

What he did was allow questions that should have been disallowed, fail to treat all candidates fairly and equally, and generally make it up as he went along.

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