65. In her memorandum the Commissioner drew attention
to "the failure on the part of Mr Vaz to provide full and
accurate answers to certain of [her] questions (in some cases,
throughout the inquiry, in others until evidence was produced
from other sources)", and she said she had found it necessary,
even where she had not upheld a complaint, to express some criticism
of Mr Vaz's approach to her inquiry.
66. Mr Vaz was wrong to say to the Commissioner last
December that he was not prepared to answer further questions
from her. All Members have a duty to co-operate with the Commissioner
and to assist her with her inquiries. We consider that in this
respect Mr Vaz's behaviour was not in accordance with his duty
of accountability under the Code of Conduct. Mr Vaz claimed that
the allegations against him and the evidence on which they were
based were imprecise.
67. In dealing with the inquiries from both the Commissioner
and the Committee Mr Vaz relied extensively on his solicitor,
Mr Geoffrey Bindman, whose dealings with us were courteous and
efficient. We would prefer Members to communicate with us directly
rather than through an intermediary, but we understand that Members
facing a complaint may wish to seek legal advice.
68. Mr Colin Hall, Chairman of the Leicester East
CLP, threatened a witness with possible disciplinary and legal
action because of allegations the witness had made to the Commissioner.
We took the view that in putting improper pressure on a witness
Mr Hall had committed a serious contempt, and asked him to appear
before us to explain his actions. Mr Hall apologised unreservedly
for any contempt that had been committed and undertook not to
commit any further such actions in the future.
69. Intimidation that comes to our attention will
be dealt with severely.
70. Both Councillor John Thomas and Councillor Piara
Singh Clair, officers of the CLP, refused to provide the Commissioner
with information that she needed.
We experienced delay in getting information from Councillor Singh
Clair, and he declined our invitation to appear before us.
We conclude that the consistently unhelpful attitude displayed
by officers of the CLP was intended to frustrate the Commissioner's
71. The Commissioner's report makes clear the significant
delay which was caused to her inquiry by Mr Kapasi's failure to
provide her with information and the extraordinary lengths to
which he went to avoid a meeting with her.
72. We were both surprised and concerned by the extent
to which witnesses engaged solicitors to represent them when the
Commissioner asked them to provide her with information. We ask
only that witnesses tell the truth. Solicitors are not required
for that purpose. Witnesses' solicitors have on occasion proceeded
from the assumption that their client was being accused of some
form of misconduct and have demanded to see evidence. This attitude
has hampered the Commissioner in her task of gathering information
in a non-adversarial way. Witnesses are not entitled to be provided
with information which the Commissioner provides as a matter of
course to a Member complained against. We regard the tone of the
correspondence from Mr Kapasi's solicitor, Mr Mark Stephens of
Finers Stephens Innocent, to the Commissioner as unacceptable.
73. The actions of the press have caused concern
in recent weeks. We are aware that Mr Vaz has been the subject
of considerable media speculation. We deplore the leaking of evidence
given to the Commissioner and the speculation about her conclusions.
We repeat what we said in our last Report:
It is not helpful and
it is wrong for anyone to try to whip up media interest in a case
which is still under investigation. Media stories about a current
case which may be based on incomplete or inaccurate information,
or on speculation masquerading as fact, can be unfair to Members
who are the subject of a complaint or to witnesses assisting the
Committee or Commissioner.