Falconer 'wanted Commons witness fired'

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Indy Politics

Lord Falconer is facing a potentially damaging inquiry by Parliament's standards watchdog over allegations that he tried to remove a House of Commons inquiry witness from her job.

The Lord Chancellor, a close friend of the Prime Minister, will today be referred to Parliament's Standards and Privileges Committee after suspending a "whistleblower" who gave critical evidence to MPs about the failings of the Government's child protection agency.

MPs yesterday published a report criticising the Lord Chancellor for his behaviour which they believe breaches "parliamentary privilege", which protects people who give evidence to Commons committees from "adverse consequences".

Judy Weleminsky, a management consultant and member of the board of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) was assured that she would be protected from a backlash by "parliamentary privilege" when she gave written evidence to MPs.

But since she did so Lord Falconer has suspended her from her role on the board of Cafcass and wants her to resign. She is also facing a disciplinary inquiry and the prospect of being forced from her post.

Lord Falconer said in a letter to Ms Weleminsky that he was "minded to terminate your membership". His action followed a report commissioned by the Department for Constitutional Affairs criticising her decision to present "evidence to the Select Committee inquiry into Cafcass in a manner which undermined the organisation and without consultation with the chairman or other board members".

Alan Beith MP, the chairman of the House of Commons Constitutional Affairs Committee, said the disciplining of a committee witness after giving evidence set a dangerous precedent and could deter future witnesses. He said: "The papers clearly show that the process of examining her conduct involved official criticism of her on the basis that she had given evidence to the committee."

The entire board of Cafcass was sacked after the committee published a highly critical report, which drew on Ms Weleminsky's evidence.

The agency, which is now being reorganised, was linked to the deaths of children and been sharply criticised for its poor performance.

Yesterday Lord Falconer denied the decision to suspend Ms Weleminsky was connected to her evidence to the committee. A spokesman for his department said: "It would be quite wrong to discipline Ms Weleminsky for having given evidence to the select committee, and that the fact of her giving evidence cannot form part of any action against her."