“Nobody” at Barnet Borough Council understands local government law, according to a damning report into a series of blunders at a council meeting.
The authority has also been criticised for employing “inexperienced” members of staff in key roles in its governance department.
The report, carried out by independent lawyer Claer Lloyd-Jones, was commissioned by the council after an annual council meeting on June 2, where councillors were asked to vote on matters which had not been cleared by a legal team.
Ms Lloyd-Jones said the mistake was the fault of Barnet’s governance team and its shared legal services arrangement with Harrow Borough Council (HBPL).
She said: “All parties were capable of spotting something was wrong with the reports, but nobody did. To those members involved, the perception was that nobody was in charge.
“There was no clear protocol or process between Barnet’s governance team and HBPL for providing legal clearance of council reports to ensure they are correct.”
She added: “Barnet failed to recognise when things were going wrong and how they could be put right. It failed to anticipate how much time and what effort needed to be put into getting the issue right the first time.”
Although legal advice on both reports was sought from HBPL, a response was never chased by Barnet’s governance team, meaning the risk of errors was “high”.
She wrote: “Legal advice was requested on both reports, but was not forthcoming on either in time for them to be printed. Nobody at Barnet queried this or noticed anything was wrong."
Ms Lloyd-Jones also said the authority was “probably” at long term risk in its legal and governance arrangements and should make changes to ensure it has access to pro-active and professional advice at all relevant times to rebuild the trust and confidence of members and officers.
She added: "There is no-one who understands local government law in depth at Barnet. Barnet employs no lawyers."
In the second part of the report, the lawyer examined the role of the authority’s monitoring officer, Maryellen Salter, who is an accountant.
Although there is no requirement for the monitoring officer to be legally qualified, local authorities often appoint their most senior lawyer to the role.
According to Ms Lloyd-Jones, the council could appoint an “experienced, legally qualified monitoring officer”.
In her suggestions on how to avoid a similar situation arising again, she also recommended the authority appoint a small team of in-house lawyers to support the monitoring officer, or consider a joint monitoring officer with Harrow.
In a statement, Barnet Council said: “The shared legal service and, now, the committee system are both running smoothly.
“Ms Lloyd-Jones has made recommendations that would clarify responsibilities within the arrangements with HB Public Law. It will be up to the policy and resources committee to agree the recommendations or otherwise.”