The Secretary of State has published the necessary regulations relating to the ability for local authorities to conduct hearings remotely.
The Local Authorities and Police and Crime Panels (Coronavirus) (Flexibility of Local Authority and Police and Crime Panel Meetings) (England and Wales) Regulations 2020 was published today (2 April 2020) and made under section 78 of the Coronavirus Act 2020. The Regulations make provision to enable local authorities to hold meetings remotely including by (but not limited to) telephone conferencing, video conferencing, live webcast, and live interactive streaming. Part 2 of these Regulations, relating to the holding of remote hearings, only relate to England but not Wales.
The Regulations further modify existing legislative provisions to remove the requirement for local authorities to hold annual meetings, and to enable requirements for public and press access to local authority meetings and associated documents to be complied with through remote means and website access.
In particular, the scope of meetings affected by these Regulations include meeting of
(a) a local authority;
(b) an executive of a local authority (within the meaning of Part 1A of the Local Government Act 2000)(10);
(c) a joint committee of two or more authorities;
(d) a committee or sub-committee of anything within paragraphs (a) to (c)
As indicated in the Institute’s Protocol (Update 1) (for which see below) these regulations now remove any residual doubt about the lawfulness of holding remote licensing sub-committee hearings (n England at least). However, existing specific licensing-related provisions, under the Licensing Act 2003 and Hearing Regulations, already provide sufficient flexibility to hold remote licensing sub-committee hearings in both England and Wales.
The Regulations will come into force on 4 April 2020 but is time limited, applying only to meetings taking place before 7 May 2021. The Government confirmed that if social distancing rules are relaxed or removed before this date, it could introduce secondary legislation to repeal these regulations.
Today, the Institute also published its Protocol for licence applications & hearings under the Licensing Act 2003 during the COVID-19 pandemic. This has been updated to include the relevant provisions of the new regulations issued under the Coronavirus Act. The protocol follows articles on the topic of remote hearings by Philip Kolvin QC, Patron of the Institute of Licensing, “Remote licensing hearings are lawful” and Gary Grant, IoL vice-chairman entitled “Licensing hearings during the coronavirus crisis”.