The Commissioner for Standards in Public Life has proposed that he should have the right to publish decisions not to investigate complaints.
Currently, when the Commissioner investigates a complaint his case report on the investigation is normally published. But if the Commissioner decides that the complaint does not warrant investigation, he cannot publish his decision to this effect. He can only send the decision to the complainant and the person about whom the complaint was made.
This practice was established in 2019 by agreement between the previous Commissioner and Parliament’s Standards Committee. It was felt that the Commissioner should not publicise an allegation if he did not intend to investigate it, so as to avoid harm to the person about whom the allegation had been made.
Often, however, an allegation is already in the public domain when it becomes the subject of a complaint to the Commissioner, or else it is publicised by the complainant.
Furthermore, the complainant or the person who is the subject of the complaint often publicises the Commissioner’s decision not to investigate the complaint.
For this reason, the Commissioner wrote to the Speaker in his capacity as chairman of the Standards Committee on 15 June 2023 to propose that the Committee should empower the Commissioner to publish decisions not to investigate complaints.
On 5 December 2023 the Commissioner wrote again to point out that his request had been pending before the Committee for over five months and the matter had now become urgent. The Commissioner noted that under the current procedure his decisions not to investigate complaints could be made public unofficially. Whoever did so could interpret decisions selectively, incorrectly, or even in a misleading manner, as had happened in a recent case.