Remote meeting legislation challenge dismissed by High Court
The following statement has today been published by Lawyers in Local Government (LLG) 28.04.21
Judgement on Virtual Meeting Provisions
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.
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.
Quentin Baker, LLG President
The High Court’s dismissal of the application effectively reconfirms the content of the SPCA “Bulletin Extra” issued on 26th March and the accompanying related letter from the Minister of Local Government.