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What is the statutory authority that a parish councillor must be physically present at a parish council to vote?

+1 vote
We would like our vulnerable Parish councillors to attend meetings remotely by phone or video app  during the Covid 19 crisis but have been advised if they do they will not be permitted to vote as they are required to be physically present. We are prepared to alter our standing orders to achieve this but obviously cannot do so if it is unlawful, we would like to know the statutory basis for this.Thankyou.
asked by (160 points)

3 Answers

+2 votes
This is a good question being asked in many places! The legalistic answer is that the whole of the legislation, in particular the Local Government Act 1972, is written to plainly indicate decisions must be taken at a meeting by those councillors who are present. This language permeates all of the legislation.

The practical question is whether this can be ignored in current circumstances. All there can be on this topic is opinion. A definitive ruling would require a court case, and that may not happen soon enough for current needs.

Discussing it with a retired legal officer of a district council, we came to the conclusion that should the issue be taken to court, a judge would most likely rule that holding a meeting using modern digital means was unlawful, but would not set aside the decisions made at such a meeting.

To make the situation completely clear requires legislation, but there are many demands for legislative change at present, and many will probably not be met for some time, if ever.
answered by (28.3k points)
+2 votes
Para 12 of Schedule 12 of the 1972 Act States:-

"Subject to paragraph 45 below, no business shall be transacted at a meeting of a parish council unless at least one-third of the whole number of members of the council are present at the meeting; but, notwithstanding anything in that paragraph, in no case shall the quorum be less than three."

Para 45 covers the special arrangements if more than two-thirds of the members have been disqualified.

The key issue here is that the legislation was drafted in 1972, when video-conferencing was only seen in sci-fi movies. The NALC is lobbying for a temporary relaxation of the rules, rather than a quick legislative change, so I am confident that they will give us a path to follow in this regard, especially in relation to Annual Meetings and audit.
answered by (15.9k points)
This is very helpful , thank you.
+1 vote
I see that the MHCLG has now confirmed that it will bring forward temporary legislation to allow virtual meetings.

Watch this space.
answered by (15.9k points)
Excellent, very sensible.

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