We previously reported on a story that local councillors could be disenfranchised unless the Government extends legislation to allow the provision of remote meetings beyond May.
In a development, it has now been reported that lawyers and democratic services officers are to seek court declaration on ability to hold remote meetings after 6 May 2021 after obtaining counsel advice.
The Local Government Lawyer reported that ADSO (the Association of Democratic Services Officers) and LLG (Lawyers in Local Government) have begun preparations to seek a declaration from the courts that pre-existing legislation means remote attendance at meetings can continue beyond 6 May 2021.
The move comes after the two organisations recently obtained counsel’s opinion from James Strachan QC of 39 Essex Chambers in relation to the expiry of the Local Authorities and Police and Crime Panels (Coronavirus) (Flexibility of Local Authority Police and Crime Panel Meetings) (England and Wales) Regulations (No.392) and the ability to continue to hold council meetings remotely past 6 May 2021.
The two organisations summarised Mr Strachan’s advice as follows:
(1) There are forceful arguments that can be made that the pre-existing legislation governing local authority meetings under Schedule 12 of the Local Government 1972 Act, and meetings of an executive or a committee of an executive under the Local Authorities (Executive Arrangements (Meetings and Access to Information) (England) Regulations 2012, enable local authorities to hold meetings remotely.
(2) For the present situation to continue after 7 May 2021 with the use of remote meetings, the optimum position would be for further legislation to be passed to make the position clear.
(3) In the absence of such legislation, one resolution would be to obtain a declaration from the courts to obtain clarity as to the legal position under the pre-existing legislation.
(4) The Secretary of State does have (a) power under section 16 of the 1999 Act to make an Order to modify or disapply those restrictions for best value authorities and (b) power under the 2000 Act to make regulations governing executive decision-making bodies to hold remote meetings.