FBU leaders face contempt of court charge after failing to comply with accounts disclosure order

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LEADERS OF THE Fire Brigades Union are potentially facing a contempt of court charge after admitting that they have destroyed or lost a number of accounting records which they had been ordered to disclose by the official trade union regulator. The records detailed the spending activities of senior officials.

On 11 March, the regulator – known as the “certification officer” – upheld a complaint from an FBU member, declaring that the union had acted unlawfully by refusing to allow the member to inspect the accounting records within 28 days of having received a request from him. The union leadership’s desperate attempts to prevent the member viewing the records have been covered in great detail by this blog.

Having ruled in the member’s favour, the certification officer ordered the union to permit him to inspect the records within 14 days. However, after the certification officer handed down her decision, the union wrote to the member and informed him that great chunks of the records – including around half of those detailing the personal expenses of senior officials – had been destroyed or lost and were therefore no longer available.

Existing legislation requires trade unions to maintain records of all their transactions and to keep available those records for inspection upon request by members for six years (or longer if a request was made before the expiry of the six-year period and that request has not yet been facilitated). Indeed, the union had told the certification officer during the complaint proceedings that all of the records that the member had requested to inspect were available and, if she ordered it, could be provided “at short notice”. It was on this basis that, having found in the member’s favour, the certification officer ordered the union to permit him to inspect the records within a fortnight.

The union’s leadership will therefore now be under pressure to explain why they have not complied with legislation governing the maintenance of accounting records and why their assurances to the certification officer about the availability of the records turned out to be false.

The certification officer has the equivalent authority of a judge, meaning that any order issued by her carries the status of a court order. This in turn means that any failure to comply with an order is likely to be seen as contempt of court. This raises the prospect of FBU leaders appearing in the dock.

In a further twist, the union’s leadership has instructed the member not to make public any information contained within the records that they did supply to him in the wake of the ruling by the certification officer, threatening him with disciplinary action if he fails to comply. This instruction was issued in spite of the fact that the certification officer had made clear in her ruling that there was no lawful justification for the union’s previous attempts to impose a secrecy order on the member.

Having been notified of the loss and destruction of the records, and the consequent breach of her order, the certification officer is now considering her next steps.

Campaign for a Democratic FBU will report any further developments. We make no apology for exposing the wrongdoing of a leadership which has seriously lost its way, thinks itself above the normal rules of scrutiny, and shows contempt for the principles of accountability and transparency.

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