Written evidence submitted by Northern Ireland Assembly Commissioner for Standards



  1. Any move towards allowing the Parliamentary Commissioner to investigate breaches of principles would enable the maintenance and promotion of high standards and ultimately serve to increase the public’s trust in the system.


  1. In 2016, a new MLA Code of Conduct came into force and is similar to the current Code of Conduct for Members of Parliament, based on investigation into breaches of the Code’s rules and not the Code’s principles and Seven Principles of Public Life. The Code prior to 2016 allowed investigation into the Code’s principles and Seven Principles of Public Life and I have been very interested in the effect of this narrowing in terms of current cases versus previous cases. It is my initial view, that while there is some merit in the clarity Members will have gained through such a narrowing, the public have lost the ability to be heard in relation to a number of important areas of behavior--for example, honesty. It is my hope that during the next planned review here in NI, we will seek to remedy this by adding rules to our Code that will map to some of the principles in order to address the gaps that have been appearing. Perhaps similarly, further rules could be drafted for the Code of Conduct for Members of Parliament that can be derived and relate directly to the Principles.


  1. A greater understanding and clarification within the Code for social media usage and ethical behaviour in relation to its usage is particularly needed across all UK jurisdictions. Media law is a rapidly developing area and one that needs to be better understood and reflected in rules within the Code.


  1. Commissioners need to be able to investigate behaviour that the reasonable person would say does not reflect the level of standards expected form elected officials. Anything that would run contrary to this in terms of admissibility criteria, Commissioner’s remit among others has the potential to undermine the public’s trust in the Members of Parliament and the Commissioner’s Office. 


  1. Creative ways to engage the public in the development of the Code itself should be considered as the Code should be reflective of society’s views on the attitudes, values and behaviours that are acceptable to them.



23 November 2020