Posted by: John Brace | 19th March 2020

Councils and other local government bodies cancel many public meetings but courts are still sitting

Councils and other local government bodies cancel many public meetings but courts are still sitting

                                           

Cllr Chris Jones (left) Health and Wellbeing Board (Wirral Council) 11th March 2020

Cllr Chris Jones (left) Health and Wellbeing Board (Wirral Council) 11th March 2020 as an example of a local council committee public meeting

Local councils including Wirral Council, Liverpool City Council, Knowsley Council as well as Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority and Liverpool City Region Combined Authority have cancelled many planned public meetings that were due to take place next week (week commencing 23rd March 2020) and beyond. The reason given by one is “government advice”. However at the national level both the House of Commons and House of Lords continue to sit both this week and plan to do so all the way through to the end of the month before the break for Easter.

The impact on public meetings of quasi-judicial committees of local councils such as planning and licensing (which are required to make decisions within certain timescales) is unclear (but at least one council is awaiting for further clarification from the national government on this).

A press release from the Minister for Local Government Robert Jenrick has stated that the national government “will consider bringing forward legislation to remove the requirement for annual council meetings to take place in person” and “It will consider bringing forward legislation to allow council committee meetings to be held virtually for a temporary period”.

Meanwhile the courts seem to be largely running as usual – the Lord Chancellor and Prime Minister have confirmed that the courts should go on sitting in England and Wales as they have a critical role. Some working practices have changed, such as the greater use of some or all participants attending by telephone, video or online rather than in person. Any Crown Court cases that were due to start that had been expected to last more than three days will be postponed.

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