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The Clerk has stated that the public will only be able to access the next council meeting via zoom as the room that the council meet in is not big enough to accommodate any members of the public. Suggestion of hiring a bigger venue has been ignored. Does the law not state that all council meetings should be open to the public? Didn’t the high court rule that Zoom access only did not count? Would any decisions at such a meeting be legal?
by (320 points)

1 Answer

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Unless Social distancing is re introduced or a restriction is placed on the number of people who can mix indoors, the Clerk is making an assertion that is illegal and not subject to any current legislation.  Members of the public can only be excluded if a resolution is given that Schedule 12 of the Loc Gov Act 1972 applies  (Confidential or exempt items are discussed). There is no reason why the meeting can't be streamed but the Council should attend on a Face to Face basis.
by (35.5k points)
As I've said in my response to the subsequent question, I do think the government needs to get its act together and give us clear guidance rather than leave us to try to interpret their rules whilst staying safe.  Personally I am furious that I might be put at risk of contracting covid by being forced to attend a meeting in person when the system of using zoom worked perfectly well for a year!  However, the requirement for the public to be able to access a meeting is for observation not contribution (decision making is made by councillors, not the public) and allowing access via live streaming is legal and at the very least safe!  The regulations requiring members to attend in person is via  different set of legislation whereby your "attendance" is only counted as attendance if you are there in person so you can only officially contribute and vote if you are in a face to face meeting.  What is important here is that your clerk or whoever is responsible has undertaken a risk assessment and that risk assessment minimises the risks to those actually attending.  The huge numbers of people being infected now are sobering.  If you are able to live stream (we're not!) to reduce the numbers gathering together then I'd welcome it.
In reality, I suspect the rules about gatherings are going to change again after Christmas, but lets see.
The judgement arose earlier this year when the temporary regulations permitting online meetings ended and it clarifies that council members must be in attendance personally to count as being in attendance and permitted to vote.  However it does clearly state that the number of members of the public in attendance is dependent  upon the venue and that health and safety concerns take precedence over everything else.  I do not interpret this judgement as meaning that only allowing members of the public to attend virtually being illegal and have seen nothing to suggest that this should be the case.
Health and Safety concerns would need to be determined and documented via a risk assessment. The expression can't just be uttered to make it valid. However, if the members just agree with the clerk, anyone member of the public  refused entry won't have any means of holding the council to account.I note  LLG president Quentin Baker told LGC this means that “any public health or health and safety legislation trumps the obligation to allow access”.  But he said that in May 21 before the full unlocking in July when such legislation changed.

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