Ex-mayor Cyril Bennis takes Stratford District Council to the high court over freedom of information
Taking a rest from tending Stratford’s swans Cyril Bennis spent time last week taking Stratford District Council to the high court.
The former councillor and mayor has been involved in a five-year battle against SDC after he claims they withheld information under the Freedom Of Information Act.
It all started when Cyril questioned the way an elected council member had proceeded with regards to a planning application, and asked for an investigation to be made.
Cyril explained: “I felt the councillor would have compromised themselves in the application and I wanted to understand how the district council dealt with that. I believe the person should not have been in the planning meeting.”
This is not a personal vendetta, Cyril is quick to point out, he says it is a point of principle and that what he is seeking is transparency on the part of the local authority.
“It’s not personal to do with the individual,” said Cyril. “It’s simply that there’s no scrutiny and I am hoping to change the law.”
When SDC came back and said they wouldn’t investigate, Cyril then asked for the documents detailing how they had come to that decision.
Cyril continued: “I wanted the documents made by the independent persons on behalf of the community made available for me to read it through so I could understand how the decision had been made by the authority – but they refused to let me have that.”
Not wanting to accept that, Cyril challenged SDC via the information commissioner. After meeting with no success there he proceeded up the next rung, the lower court. In the end in effect the court sided with SDC. Yet on Cyril persevered, appearing before Judge Wright at the high court a year ago who granted him the right to appeal.
That brings the case up to this week when Cyril represented himself, taking on eminent lawyer Robin Hopkins, an authority on the freedom of information law, who has been hired by the district council.
Cyril commented: “This has implication for all authorities in the country, not just Stratford.
“The last five years has been challenging – with one door closing as another half opens. Democracy is slow, but I’m impressed with the ability of the judges to grasp the significance of what is happening.”
See the Herald print edition for more news of Cyril's court battle.