London mayor Ken Livingstone emphatically won his High Court appeal against a finding that he brought his office into disrepute when he likened a Jewish reporter to a Nazi concentration camp guard, the judgment released today has revealed.
A judge said Mr Livingstone's gibe while "off duty" to Evening Standard newspaper reporter Oliver Finegold was "unnecessarily offensive" and "indefensible", and he should have apologised.
But the Adjudication Panel for England had misdirected itself in February when it found his outburst breached the Greater London Authority code of conduct.
Mr Justice Collins, sitting at the High Court in London, stressed that the mayor had the right to freedom of speech in a democratic society and to express his views within the law "as forcibly as he thought fit".
The judge added: "Surprising as it may perhaps appear to some, the right of freedom of speech does extend to abuse."
Although the panel tribunal had been entitled to conclude his Nazi gibe brought the mayor into disrepute, the judge said he was not persuaded the office had also been brought into disrepute.
The panel had applied a test which "failed to recognise the real distinction between the man and the office".
The decision to suspend the mayor for four weeks for his remarks was also "clearly wrong". Livingstone exercised "real power" over millions of people and had "a unique position with unique powers", and people were entitled to expect that he would conduct himself "to a high standard suitable to his office", said the judge.
"That may well be so, but it does not mean that, if he falls below that high standard, the office as well as he are brought into disrepute."
The judge allowed Livingstone's appeal, set aside the finding that he had failed to comply with the code of conduct and formally quashed the suspension.
Today's High Court triumph will come as a relief to Livingstone, who warned recently that if he lost the case he could face bankruptcy, having spent some £250,000 contesting the panel decision and the "over the top" four-week suspension.
Outside court afterwards Mr Livingstone said : “I think it is an incredibly sensible judgment which will clearly define the role of the Standards Board across a whole range of cases and brings balance to freedom of speech rights.
“I was impressed by the common sense approach the judge took. I am delighted we won the costs.”