Following the Judgement from the High Court in relation to our Virtual Meeting Judicial Review, the court indicated at the end of that judgement within a postscript, that it would consider references to a meeting being “open to the public” or “held in public”. That judgement was handed down today.
The Court has ruled that local authority meetings must be open to the public in a physical sense. References to a meeting being “open to the public” or “held in public” in the Court’s view mean the physical attendance by the public. This means that the public can attend in person and councils have to provide such facilities. This should however be provided and managed in line with current restrictions and public health advice. So, in practical terms, Councils have no choice but to control the numbers of people physically in the meeting room at any one time to comply with the Government’s Covid restrictions in place.
Councils can still provide live streaming/broadcasts to allow wider public access. There is a difference in our view between the public accessing the meeting on the live stream or broadcast as observers and those actively participating in the meeting as (as) objectors, applicants, or appellants. Based on the above additional judgement, the latter’s attendance must be in person but in the broader sense, the meeting must still be open to the public, even those not participating, albeit in compliance with the Covid restrictions in place for the time being.
We realise that this places additional pressure on local authorities in their arrangements for meetings moving forward. We would urge all local authorities and indeed individuals to now turn their attention to the Local Authority Remote Meetings: Call for Evidence and respond to the government by 17th June 2021.
As ever, it is for your authority to take its own view both on the interpretation of the judgement and the steps it will be taking in respect of the conduct of meetings moving forward. Please do take advantage of our private member forum areas on our respective websites to discuss arrangements with your colleagues and share best practice.
For member queries please contact: –
John Austin, Chair
Helen McGrath, Head of Public Affairs