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The application to the High Court made by ADSO, LLG and Hertfordshire County Council in relation to virtual meeting provision for local authorities has today been dismissed.
The court concluded that:
“…. the Secretary of State was correct in November 2016 and July 2019 to say that primary legislation would be required to allow local authority “meetings” under the 1972 Act to take place remotely. In our view, once the Flexibility Regulations cease to apply, such meetings must take place at a single, specified geographical location; attending a meeting at such a location means physically going to it; and being “present” at such a meeting involves physical presence at that location. We recognise that there are powerful arguments in favour of permitting remote meetings. But, as the consultation documents show, there are also arguments against doing so. The decision whether to permit some or all local authority meetings to be conducted remotely, and if so, how, and subject to what safeguards, involves difficult policy choices on which there is likely to be a range of competing views. These choices have been made legislatively for Scotland by the Scottish Parliament and for Wales by the Senedd. In England, they are for Parliament, not the courts”.
In view of the level of support for the option of remote meetings LLG and ADSO are very disappointed at the decision of the court to refuse to support the updated interpretation we proposed which would have enabled councils to continue providing the option of remote attendance.
We recognise that this will be a great disappointment for many across the sector and we will now direct our energy, and the momentum that has been generated, into lobbying government to quickly bring forward the necessary legislation to overcome this impasse and to ensure that councils have local choice to determine the methodology by which meetings can take place. Not just during the pandemic, but for the long term, in perpetuity. The Government’s call for evidence is currently open. It is vitally important that you respond to that call and ensure our voice continues to be heard.
John Austin, Chair of ADSO said:
"I am extremely disappointed that we haven’t achieved the positive outcome we wanted for local authorities. The situation Councils now find themselves in is untenable and I call on the Secretary of State to back up his support for our claim and legislate quickly, as Governments have in Wales and Scotland. Thank you to all who have supported our claim financially and otherwise. Our work does not stop here. We move on to the next phase".
Quentin Baker, LLG President said:
"Although the court’s decision is disappointing the work done in bringing the case isn’t wasted as it has focussed minds on identifying the key elements of a good meeting and galvanised opinion across the sector in favour of remote attendance as an option. I’m confident that we have paved the way for Government to legislate and LLG will be working closely with ADSO to assist the Secretary of State to deliver that outcome."
Are hearings under the Licensing Act 2003 affected?
Paragraph 42 of the IoL's ' Protocol for licence applications & hearings under the licensing act 2003 during the covid-19 pandemic' published in April 2020, states:
'Whilst the new Coronavirus Regulations (in both England and Wales) remove any residual doubts about the legality of remote licensing hearings, and enable Councils to make their own standing orders to facilitate their conduct, in our view, the specific licensing provisions already in existence enable remote hearings, in any event, to lawfully take place in proceedings under the Licensing Act 2003.'