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Posted by: John Brace | 19th June 2016

What did Andrew Roberts answer to questions about the Headteachers’/Teachers’ Joint Consultative Committee at the First-tier Tribunal (Information Rights) hearing (EA/2016/0033)?

What did Andrew Roberts answer to questions about the Headteachers’/Teachers’ Joint Consultative Committee at the First-tier Tribunal (Information Rights) hearing (EA/2016/0033)?

                   

At the outset I will make four declarations of interests.

1) I am the Appellant in this case (EA/2016/0033).
2) My wife was my McKenzie Friend in case EA/2016/0033.
3) I made the original Freedom of Information request on the 29th March 2013.
4) I am referred to by name (Mr. Brace) in paragraphs 1, 4 and 5 of the witness statement of Andrew Roberts.


Hearing: EA/2016/0033
Court/Room: Tribunal Room 5, 3rd Floor
Address: 35 Vernon St, Liverpool, Merseyside L2 2BX
Date/time: 16th June 2016 10:15 am

First-tier Tribunal (Information Rights) (General Regulatory Chamber)
First-tier Tribunal Judge Mr. David Farrer QC
First-tier Tribunal Member Mr. Michael Hake
First-tier Tribunal Member Dr. Malcolm Clarke

Appellant: Mr John Brace
First Respondent: ICO (Information Commissioner’s Office)
Second Respondent: Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council


The below is an incomplete record written up from my handwritten notes made at the hearing. The below does not cover some of the sections when I am speaking due to the difficulties in taking notes as doing that you end up facing the paper you’re writing on.



First-tier Tribunal Judge Mr. David Farrer QC opened the hearing by explaining how he planned the hearing would happen.

There were some preliminary matters to be discussed at the start of the hearing.

Wirral Council’s barrister Mr. Robin Hopkins explained that the name of the LGA Associate Tutor in page 1 of item 18 Member Training Steering Group had now been disclosed to the Appellant (Mr. Brace) shortly before the hearing started. Therefore Wirral Council was no longer relying on section 40(2) (personal information) regarding this name.

[This name disclosed was Welna Bowden as you can see below].

EA/2016/0033 Welna Bowden (item 18 Member Training Steering Group) Post It note

EA/2016/0033 Welna Bowden (item 18 Member Training Steering Group) Post It note

He went on to explain that the other names that Wirral Council was relying upon section 40(2) (personal information) to withhold in items 18, 19 and 26, following further explanation by him on behalf of his client (Wirral Council) to myself (the Appellant) as to the reasons why had been accepted by the Appellant.

This just left item 15 (minutes of the Headteachers’/Teachers’ Joint Consultative Committee) as the main item for the hearing.

The Appellant Mr. John Brace confirmed Mr Robin Hopkins’ version of the conversation just before the hearing started and that the hearing would just concentrate on item 15 (minutes of the Headteachers’/Teachers’ Joint Consultative Committee) in relation to Wirral Council’s application of section 40(2) (personal information) and section 36(2)(b) (prejudice to the effective conduct of public affairs) to minutes of the Headteachers’/Teachers’ Joint Consultative Committee held on the 28th February 2013.

Mr Robin Hopkins stated that his client (Wirral Council) was prepared to disclose one further section of item 15 and handed the Appellant an A4 sheet on which the following was written,

“15

– On the subject of Acre Lane, David Armstrong is leading an assets review, which includes identifying a new location for the services currently provided at Acre Lane.”

EA/2016/0033 item 15 (Headteachers’/Teachers’ Joint Consultative Committee) Acre Lane & David Armstrong

EA/2016/0033 item 15 (Headteachers’/Teachers’ Joint Consultative Committee) Acre Lane & David Armstrong

First-tier Tribunal Judge Mr. David Farrer QC confirmed that the scope of the hearing had been narrowed just to item 15.

Mr Robin Hopkins went through the remaining 6 blocks of redacted text that Wirral Council was withholding on the basis of section 36(2)(b) and numbered them.

Block 1 (18 lines) – page 119 (section 6. Academies)
Block 2 (17 lines) – page 120 (section 6. Academies)
Block 3 (15 lines) – page 120 (section 7. Advanced Skills Teachers)
Block 4 ( 2 lines)  – page 121 (section 7. Advanced Skills Teachers)
Block 5 ( 9 lines)  – page 121 (section 8. Wirral Council – Budget Issues)
Block 6 (11 lines) – page 122 (section 9. STRB Report)

The hearing went on to consider the application of section 36(2)(b) to the 6 blocks of information (in the open bundle reference pages 119-122 or pages 3-6 as numbered in the minutes themselves) of item 15 (Headteachers’/Teachers’ Joint Consultative Committee) and section 40(2) to the name on page one of item 15 (Headteachers’/Teachers’ Joint Consultative Committee).

Mr. David Farrer QC (Tribunal Judge) explained that he would not be asking Wirral Council’s two witnesses to take an oath about the evidence they were about to give. He explained that they didn’t need to read out their witness statements.

The first witness was for the 2nd Respondent (Wirral Council) and was called Mr. Andrew Roberts (see photo from 2014 below).

Andrew Roberts at a public meeting of Wirral Council's Schools Forum 3rd December 2014

Andrew Roberts at a public meeting of Wirral Council’s Schools Forum 3rd December 2014

Mr Robin Hopkins asked Andrew Roberts to introduce himself.

Andrew Roberts explained that he worked for Wirral Council [the 2nd Respondent] and had attended the meeting of the [Headteachers’/Teachers’] Joint Consultative Committee [held on the 28th February 2013] between school staff and Members [councillors]. He had been given a copy of his witness statement and he had read it. He confirmed that some of this document was at page 117 onwards of the open bundle.

The First-tier Tribunal Judge Mr. David Farrer QC then stated something about the unredacted version in the closed bundle.

Mr Robin Hopkins referred to the middle of page 1 and the list of attendees. He asked a question about what was behind the blacked out section?

There were a comment made by the First-tier Tribunal Judge Mr. David Farrer QC about whether it should be considered in closed session.

The witness Andrew Roberts was asked by Robin Hopkins about his views on the minutes [item 15] in relation to the blacked out sections.

Andrew Roberts stated that it recorded dialogue [at the meeting] of both trade union representatives, elected members [councillors] and [Wirral Council] officers. There was comment on a national report that contained recommendations on pay, discussion about academies and the budget that was decided each year along with the Medium Term Financial Strategy.

Reference was made to the name redacted on page 117 of the bundle. He asked Andrew Roberts to help the Tribunal by explaining their role and seniority.

Andrew Roberts explained that the senior HR [Human Resources] officer was Sue Blevins there to provide advice to the meeting. The other HR officer was there to provide some assurance.

Robin Hopkins asked him to confirm that the redacted name was a junior officer in a non-decision-making role and what their role was at the meeting?

Andrew Roberts confirmed that they were a junior officer in a non-decision making role.

First-tier Tribunal Member Michael Hake referred to Andrew Robert’s witness statement page 3 and the statement at paragraph 9 and specifically the reference to “confidentially”. He pointed out that it held no protective markings to say it was confidential and asked how it was circulated or to who?

Andrew Roberts replied that the minutes would be circulated to those present at the meeting and recorded by someone who was present at it.

First-tier Tribunal Member Michael Hake referred to his answer about how it being recorded by someone who went to the meeting and asked if they were agreed minutes?

Andrew Roberts stated that the minutes will have been agreed at the following meeting.

First-tier Tribunal Member Michael Hake asked if the minutes were jointly approved?

Andrew Roberts answered that by the time they were circulated they were agreed by both parties.

First-tier Tribunal Member Michael Hake asked if there was a terms of reference for the [Headteachers’/Teachers’ Joint Consultative Committee]?

Andrew Roberts answered that he didn’t know.

First-tier Tribunal Member Michael Hake asked if there was a written procedure that the minutes were confidential or private?

Andrew Roberts answered that he was not aware of one.

First-tier Tribunal Member Michael Hake asked where the expectation of confidentiality came from?

Andrew Roberts answered that the meeting provides a free and open forum for elected members and representatives from schools and that it was the “only real access for elected members [councillors]”.

First-tier Tribunal Member Michael Hake referred to paragraph 9 of the witness statement and Andrew Roberts’ understanding. He asked how that understanding was shared?

Andrew Roberts stated that it is a shared understanding but he had not tested that.

First-tier Tribunal Member Michael Hake commented on the two other groups at the meeting, the trade union officials and the councillor. The councillors had to keep it confidential but did the trade unions regard it as confidential?

Andrew Roberts said that Mr. Tour might be able to answer that.

First-tier Tribunal Member Michael Hake asked if there had been any difficulties in disclosure of the minutes previously?

Andrew Roberts answered the question.

First-tier Tribunal Member Michael Hake asked how often it met.

Andrew Roberts answered termly [which means three times a year].

First-tier Tribunal Member Michael Hake asked when it met was it a decision making body?

Andrew Roberts said not that he was aware of.

First-tier Tribunal Member Michael Hake asked a further question about Executive Members [Cabinet Members].

Andrew Roberts replied that he was not aware, but made a comment about the Cabinet Member.

First-tier Tribunal Member Michael Hake asked if the minutes were circulated to school governing bodies?

Andrew Roberts answered that he didn’t know.

First-tier Tribunal Member Michael Hake thanked him for his answers.

Continues at What did Andrew Roberts answer to questions about the Headteachers’/Teachers’ Joint Consultative Committee at the First-tier Tribunal (Information Rights) hearing (EA/2016/0033) (continued)?.

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Responses

  1. G’day John

    As a spectator I was a bit surprised about the tribunal being so casual with things like “what was your memory” and the vagueness of it all, and the fact it looked like the witness was very nervous, didn’t remember, or, particularly think it was important. Looking up to the “The Shyster” for support or what seemed like the right answers.

    I suppose the panel had made up their minds on the evidence presented having seen the unredacted version earlier John and the tribunal was a bit of a charade to justify the panel coming from wherever and “Sir Git’s” barista taking away a shit load.

    My guess John is they did the deal on what they would give you but will keep the “potty mouth” bit a secret as we all know about their

    REPUTATION MANAGEMENT.

    Ooroo

    James

    Everyone knows the calibre of the particular clowncillors that are crass, crud, ignorant and ugly.

    • Well I was the one who dug my heels in so it would go for a hearing and I was glad it was held solely in public.

      Andrew Roberts did seem more nervous than I’ve seen him in the past.

      From my recollection it wasn’t my questions to Andrew Roberts or that of Wirral Council’s barrister (who would’ve no doubt prepared their witness in advance on what he was going to ask him) that seemed to make him nervous. If I remember correctly it was that of the Panel Members.

      TBH one of the Panel Members asked him a question I was going to ask, but either forgot to or decided not to ask because I was unsure of the answer I’d get would be helpful to my case.

      The Tribunal Panel have to take account of as you point out the written evidence already submitted, plus what happened at the hearing before reaching a decision.

      Just a slight correction of a misunderstanding though. Surjit Tour wasn’t instructing Wirral Council’s barrister (Robin Hopkins) as he was a witness. Rosemary Lyon was the instructing solicitor at Wirral Council.

      In fact reading between the lines it’s my opinion that because he (Mr. Tour) made the section 36 decision originally in 2014 and at internal review in 2015 that that represented a conflict of interest which prevented him being the instructing solicitor for Wirral Council in FTT (Info Rights) Case EA/2016/0033.

      Therefore it was a different solicitor to Surjit Tour at Wirral Council instructing the barrister Robin Hopkins.

      As to the “deal” as you put it on what they would give me.

      My opinion is that the extra disclosures (item 18 and item 15) were partly given to me because they couldn’t come up with allowable reason or reasons why it shouldn’t be disclosed. If Wirral Council had chosen to dig their heals in and not disclosed it, it would’ve formed part of the decision and therefore be could be used in future FOI requests.

      In the matter of 2 of the lines disclosed I would guess it would’ve been:

      a) because a s.36 decision doesn’t cover matters that fall into the category of environmental information, therefore a s.36 decision on FOI grounds doesn’t cover it

      and

      b) who was saying it at the meeting and their seniority (presumably Julia Hassall about David Armstrong)

      Acre Lane was about a large property (worth £millions) Wirral Council own that Wirral Council used to use as a training centre for teachers and for other functions.

      In fact in a previous job once (just to make it clear the client wasn’t Wirral Council) I had a call out there many years ago.

      However since the JCC meeting in 2013, there’s an update on Acre Lane on the Wirral South Lib Dems site here from last year and letter to residents sent out last year here AFAIK it’s been demolished and I think they already have an agreement with a developer about its future use if memory serves correct.

      • Thanks John

        I would still love to see what our favourite “POTTY MOUTH” had to say.

        Ooroo

        James

        • Well I’ve finished what Andrew Roberts has to say here and moved on in that to how the next witness Surjit Tour was called a Chief Executive.

          • ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha

            • Just for your comparison (in case anyone else gets confused):

              Surjit Tour (pay grade Head of Service 2): £75,567
              Chief Executive (Eric Robinson)(pay grade Chief Executive): £171,700.


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