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.
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].
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,
– 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.”
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).
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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