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High Court delivers judgement on remote meetings

Time Published 28 April 2021

It has been announced today that the High Court has ruled against Lawyers in Local Government (LLG), Association of Democratic Services Officers (ADSO) and Hertfordshire County Council and their bid to enable local councils to continue meeting remotely.

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”. The judgement can be viewed here.

SLCC Chief Executive, Rob Smith said ‘This is a huge disappointment for local councils. The ability to meet remotely has seen a significant increase in public engagement and awareness of the important work carried out by this tier of local government and it is a shame that on a purely logistical level, legitimate concerns of officers and councillors are not being taken into account. Our members will have prepared for this eventuality and will continue to lawfully serve their communities within current guidelines. LLG, ADSO and Hertfordshire County Council are to be applauded for their hard work in bringing this legal action and I would encourage local councils to consider joining SLCC in contributing to the considerable cost involved by visiting their crowdfunding page here. Looking to the future, I would also urge members to complete the government consultation on the future of remote meetings which can be found here.

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