Councillor John Robertson NOT disqualified after being hit with bankruptcy order over fees owed to South Tyneside Council

A South Tyneside councillor has been hit with a bankruptcy order over money owed to the local authority, but will not face disqualification from his position.

John Robertson, elected as a councillor in the Primrose ward in May, was issued with a statutory demand followed by a bankruptcy petition by South Tyneside Council earlier this year over £8,661.83 owed to the local authority.

This related to the balance outstanding on two cost orders dating back to August 2013 and January 2014, which came after proceedings were unsuccessfully brought by Cllr Robertson and his son against the council.

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Newcastle Civil and Family Court on Friday, November 25, heard the council claim Cllr Robertson was playing a “cat and mouse game” and “went back” on previous assurances given over paying the debt.

Councillor John Robertson will not face disqualification after being hit with a bankruptcy order.Councillor John Robertson will not face disqualification after being hit with a bankruptcy order.
Councillor John Robertson will not face disqualification after being hit with a bankruptcy order.

However Cllr Robertson argued he had made “seven reasonable offers” of repayments and alleged the proceedings were “malicious” and brought with the “collateral purpose” to remove him as a councillor under the Local Government Act 1972.

District Judge Michelle Temple ruled it was “entirely proper and appropriate that a bankruptcy order will be made”.

She added: “He [Mr Robertson] has conducted himself in my view in an entirely inappropriate way and made entirely inappropriate accusations, and unsubstantiated allegations, and has only made the payments when it has been necessary to try and avoid the reality of what he was faced with.

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“Taking into account the circumstances of this case, I am satisfied that the debts were due and owing, I’m satisfied that there hasn’t been a reasonable offer of settlement”.

Following the hearing, South Tyneside Council chiefs said the order “does not have the effect of disqualifying an elected member of the council”.

Hari Menon, barrister on behalf of South Tyneside Council, told the court Cllr Robertson had “reneged on his assurances” and “kept making entirely unreasonable demands” as to what a repayment package should constitute.

He said: “This is pre-eminently a cat and mouse game and moreover there are aggravating features which involve rehashing debunked arguments and going back on assurances given to the court.”

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The court heard a previous payment agreement was in place when Cllr Robertson was a councillor from 2019 to 2021, but this lapsed when he resigned from office.

Cllr Robertson, representing himself, claimed he had no assets and proceedings were “malicious” and “heavy handed”, while he had made “seven reasonable offers” of repayment.

He said: “These proceedings are an abuse of the courts process, they’re for one collateral purpose, to remove me as an elected councillor.”

He added the statutory demand was issued within “five weeks” of him being re-elected and he had received “nothing” during his time away from the council.

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The court heard in September and November this year Cllr Robertson made payments bringing the total down to £4,015.23, which is below the usual £5,000 threshold for bankruptcy.

However District Judge Temple said the £5,000 fee is a “matter of discretion” and after taking into account all of the circumstances ruled the defence did not apply, noting the over £8,000 fee when the petition was presented.

District Judge Temple said: “There are debts which are owed, the council is entitled to seek to enforce them.

“I have seen no satisfactory evidence at all that comes close to establishing that there was the ulterior motive alleged by Mr Robertson.”

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Earlier in the hearing Cllr Robertson had requested the judge recuse herself due to previously appearing in a case in which cost orders were made against him in 2013.

However District Judge Temple ruled against this as that case was “not part of the debt in question and was not part of the proceedings before the court”.

Following the result, Cllr Robertson said he wanted to appeal for this reason, but the judge ruled he would have “no reasonable prospect of success” and permission to appeal was refused.

Speaking after the result, a spokesperson for South Tyneside Council said: “Whilst this is a private debt collection matter between an individual and the council, the order made on 25 November does not have the effect of disqualifying an elected member of the Council.

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“We are aware of allegations as to motive, and it is important to confirm that the court found no satisfactory evidence that came close to establishing an ulterior motive in the decision making of the council to petition for bankruptcy.

“The court correctly found that the aim of the action was the recovery of sums due to the council for a number of years.”