Due to the potential for legal action to be taken against individual councillors or local government employees, all local governments are encouraged to adopt a policy(s) about funding the cost of providing legal representation for council representatives in relevant circumstances.
In accordance with legislative requirements, local governments must maintain both public liability insurance and professional indemnity insurance for their respective council. It is important to note that each local government is responsible for arranging its own insurance, with an insurer of its choice, when providing cover for their council.
In developing a suitable policy and procedure, local governments should be transparent and accountable when providing assistance and associated costs for council representatives, so that the community maintains confidence that public funds are being expended in an appropriate way.
Some matters for consideration in developing an appropriate policy include:
- when it is appropriate to provide legal assistance to a council representative
- who is authorised to make the decision that financial support will be provided
- the limits or levels of assistance that are to be given, including costs to be covered
- the criteria for providing additional support and obligations on a council representative receiving assistance
- the circumstances in which approval for assistance may be revoked and repayment of costs sought (for example, if it is found that the council representative has acted dishonestly or negligently)
- the process to procure legal assistance either internally within council or externally, particularly where, for example, a councillor requests legal advice of a general nature.
It is recommended that the policy for councillors be included within the councillor expenses reimbursement policy and that councils adopt a similar policy for council employees to cover circumstances where legal assistance is to be provided by the council.
The model policy produced by the Western Australian Government is a useful guide in developing appropriate policy(s).