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Use of the Admission to Meetings Act (Public Bodies) 1960 to avoid giving reasons for secrecy

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Isn't it an anomaly that the Admission to Meetings Act (Public Bodies) 1960 allows a Council to meet in private if it chooses to - no further questions; whereas the Local Government Act 1972 imposes an obligation on a council to give reasons (ie from Schedule 12A) as to why it wants to meet in private?
I know that LGA 1972 Schedule 12A is widely used and there is very little a member of the public can do to challenge it, but at least the council has to give some explanation for meeting behind closed doors. My council uses the Admission to Meetings Act (Public Bodies) 1960 and so hides behind the catchall provision that "publicity would be prejudicial to the public interest by reason of the confidential nature of the business to be transacted" - no other reasons given.
Can a council avoid its statutory obligations to meet the requirements of the LGA 1972 by citing the 1960 Act?

by (1.7k points)

1 Answer

0 votes
Well in both cases the exclusion has to be by resolution, and the meeting minutes where the resolution was given must be recorded. If it was resolved that publicity would be prejudicial to the public interest, there should be a record of the public interest test that was applied, which you could ask for via a Freedom of Information request. The Clerk should not simply tell the members it wouldn't be in the public interest and tell them to resolve it without any further explanation.
by (30.4k points)
Thanks Graeme_r. The Admission to Meetings Act (Public Bodies) 1960 doesn't say anything about applying a public interest test or explaining further how the public interest might be harmed. It gives councils the power to meet in private if they simply resolve that "publicity would be prejudicial to the public interest by reason of the confidential nature of the business to be transacted". I agree that they ought to be able to explain the nature of the public interest involved, but I can't see any legal requirement to do so when using the 1960 Act.
If you establish that no public interest test was carried out, or that the council refused to tell you what it was, this could be reported to the external auditor and the Information  Commissioner.
Thanks again, but where in the 1960 Act is there any requirement to carry out a public interest test?
Unfortunately S12 does not apply to Parish’s but I feel it should I tried to get my Parish to use the principles of S12 but they prefer secrecy
As for the external auditor and the ICO can anyone give me an example where they have actually done anything about this
From my recent experience the ICO are useless all you need to do is say information has been destroyed and they throw the towel in
I did hear that some parish councils, who clearly think this issue needs addressing, have created a safeguard.  They have built into their standing orders a requirement that, before a private session can be declared, that the move needs to be openly justified, with a public discussion first about whether a public interest test applies - and what it is - which should then be minuted.
Is that right... that a council can just adapt its own standing orders in this way, to get round the laxness of the 1960 Act?
Mark There’s absolutely no reason why a Parish can’t adopt a higher standard

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