Posted by: John Brace | 26th October 2018

Why is Wirral Council putting on agendas that chairs of public meetings can “halt any recording?”

Why is Wirral Council putting on agendas that chairs of public meetings can “halt any recording?”


                                   

Birkenhead Constituency Committee (27th September 2018) L to R Cllr George Davies, Jo Burrell and David Kenneth Abraham

Birkenhead Constituency Committee (27th September 2018) L to R Cllr George Davies, Jo Burrell and David Kenneth Abraham

Earlier this month I wrote a story about what happened when I tried to film a public meeting of the Birkenhead Constituency Committee headlined Why does Wirral Council believe it can direct how filming of its public meetings are done (when not filmed by themselves)?

Shortly after publishing that story Wirral Council started putting the text below on all agendas for its public meetings (starting with the Council meeting that was held on the 15th October 2018):

Audio/Visual Recording of Meetings

Everyone is welcome to record meetings of the Council and its Committees using non-disruptive methods. For particular meetings we may identify a ‘designated area’ for you to record from. If you have any questions about this please contact Committee and Civic Services (members of the press please contact the Press Office). Please note that the Chair of the meeting has the discretion to halt any recording for a number of reasons, including disruption caused by the filming or the nature of the business being conducted. Persons making recordings are requested not to put undue restrictions on the material produced so that it can be reused and edited by all local people and organisations on a non-commercial basis.

 

Earlier this year I reported on changes to Wirral Council’s policy on filming public meetings agreed by its Standards and Constitutional Oversight Committee in February 2018 in Councillors agree to new filming policy for public meetings of Wirral Council and Are Wirral Council councillors trying to restrict the filming of public meetings again?.

Prior to that meeting of the Standards and Constitutional Oversight Committee in relation to paragraph 3 of the filming policy I wrote an email to those on the Standards and Constitutional Oversight Committee that stated “It needs to be clearer that this applies to Wirral Council’s webcast only and not the recording by others”. I received a written response to that point and other points I’d made at the public meeting of the Standards and Constitutional Oversight Committee (copies were also provided to those on the Standards and Constitutional Oversight Committee). I was told at the time the response had been written by a Wirral Council employee and it stated, “This is a reference to the Wirral Protocol – relating to Wirral meetings, and refers to Webcasting. Public filming of a meeting would not be affected, however Members may vacate the room if there’s a disturbance and the filming would be of an empty room.”

So why are chairs of public meetings at Wirral Council being told on agendas that they have “the discretion to halt any recording for a number of reasons” when to do so in relation to filming or recording of the meeting by the press and public would breach regulation 3 of the Openness of Local Government Bodies Regulations 2014, regulation 4 of the Openness of Local Government Bodies Regulations 2014, in relation to Cabinet meetings and Cabinet committees regulation 5 of the Openness of Local Government Bodies Regulations 2014, s.1(4)(d) of the Public Meetings (Admission to Meetings) Act 1960 (as amended), s.100A(7C) of the Local Government Act 1972 (as amended), in relation to Cabinet meetings and Cabinet committees regulation 4(5B) of the Local Authorities (Executive Arrangements) (Meetings and Access to Information) (England) Regulations 2012 (as amended) and s.6(1) of the Human Rights Act 1998.

Why do Wirral Council tell councillors one position on the law in February 2018 (that you can’t stop filming of a public meeting), yet in October 2018 tell councillors the complete opposite position on the law (incorrectly that Chairs can) when the law hasn’t changed in the meantime?

Below is a tweet I wrote today to Rt Hon The Lord Eric Pickles who changed the law on this in 2014.

So what do you think? Please leave a comment with your thoughts on the matter.

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Responses

  1. This go’s to show Wirral Council have things to hide and think themselves above the law of the land!

    • Yes they have things to hide and yes (because very few have the resources to challenge them from a legal perspective).

      Even if challenged in the judicial system Wirral Council have the money and resources to drag cases out for years and manipulate the decision making of the judiciary to suit their own interests.

      The trouble is though, if Wirral Council have the attitude of breaking the law when it suits them, this gives the indication that such behaviour is ok.

      It undermines trust in democracy and the rule of law.

      But if the citizens of Wirral didn’t pay their council tax (thus breaking the law) do you think Wirral Council would take the same attitude that law breaking is ok?

  2. By definition, public meetings are attended by the public and this can be in person or by watching a live webcast or recording (very little being filmed these days) or reading the minutes at a later date. Alternatively, accurate minutes, either verbatim or summarised, should be taken and made public so that those who did not attend may see what actions are to be taken and who will have responsibility for completing the actions.

    The only reasons to have the public removed (and webcast and / or recording stopped) and minutes for public reading suspended is if the item being debated is private to the committee or individual or group of individuals or if the public (and the recorder) are causing a disturbance.

    It is entirely wrong, ethically and legally, for proceedings of public meetings to be withheld. If proceedings of a meeting are hidden the interpretation will be that the committee had something invalid to hide.

    • Thanks for your comment.

      The problem is that Wirral Council (by their past announcements on the subject and what they’ve said recently) see perfectly lawful filming of a public meeting as disruptive.

      They see for example the use of a tripod as disruptive and a waste of space that in their mind could be used for other things like people.

      You see there is often very limited space for the public or press in the rooms Wirral Council uses for public meetings which leads to meetings where it can be standing room only.


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