The Lord Chancellor might be forced to resign if it is proved he
tried to force a civil servant to quit her job at a child
protection agency for revealing its failings.
Last week, in a special parliamentary debate, MPs voted to refer
the matter to the House of Commons’s all-party standards and
privileges committee because of concerns that Lord Falconer, who
heads the court services, had breached parliamentary rules.
The motion was brought by Alan Beith, chairperson of the Department
for Constitutional Affairs’ select committee, after the committee
agreed there were grounds to suggest Falconer had suspended the
civil servant for giving unauthorised evidence to its inquiry into
the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service last
Cafcass board member Judy Weleminsky has been suspended pending the
completion of a disciplinary process after refusing Falconer’s
request to resign. The remaining nine board members agreed to
resign as recommended by an independent review last autumn.
The DCA committee’s inquiry found that the board had failed to
adequately scrutinise the actions of Cafcass management and
recommended it be radically overhauled. However, Weleminsky was
widely commended by the committee for providing separate, critical
evidence about Cafcass, which differed from that given by the then
board chairperson Anthony Hewson and current chief executive
Last week, Beith made public the papers outlining the case against
Weleminsky. Much of the evidence it draws on was included in a
dossier compiled by Hewson and passed onto Falconer detailing
specific breaches of Cafcass’s rules.
As well as providing evidence to the inquiry without permission,
the dossier also claims that she failed to act in a “corporate
manner”; demonstrated “difficult/oppressive” behaviour towards
Tross and other Cafcass staff; and provided “sensitive
informationÉwhich undermined the Cafcass position” to the
press, including Community Care, without permission from
The evidence was assessed by David Crawley, a senior official at
the DCA, who found there were grounds to support many of the
Falconer wrote to Weleminsky in December outlining the reasons for
her suspension and said he was “minded to terminate her board
membership” but would delay a decision until after she’d responded.
Beith then wrote to Falconer saying it appeared Weleminsky was
being punished for giving evidence, an accusation the minister
Falconer stated:”My decision does not depend wholly, or in part, on
the fact she gave evidence to the select committee.”
However, during last week’s Commons debate, Beith said it was not
surprising Weleminsky “should form the impression she was being
punished for giving evidence”. Being free to speak openly without
fear of penalty – known as privilege – is one of the foundations of
the inquiry system, he added.
“The allegation would be serious if it were made against an
employer, but it is doubly so when it involves a minister,” said
Oliver Heald, Conservative MP for north east Hertfordshire.
Weleminsky argues that neither corporate responsibility nor
confidentiality are included in the job description of a Cafcass
board member. Rather, she believed her job required her to abide by
the “Nolan principles” of selflessness, integrity, accountability,
openness, objectivity, honesty and leadership.
“The pressure to conform to corporacy and confidentiality are in
direct opposition to these principles,” she said. Weleminsky uses
this to justify providing evidence to the committee and states,
rightly, that parliamentary privilege overrides corporate
She also argues that the DCA is effectively saying she should have
acted corporately when dealing with the media by supporting
“misleading” public statements given by senior managers. “I believe
it is in the public interest to know if an organisation is
delivering the service it is supposed to be, if children are at
risk and if there are sufficient resources. It is not in the public
interest to keep information confidential.”
No date has been set by the standards and privileges committee to
review the case.