29 Apr 2021

Yesterday the Administrative Court, comprising the President and Chamberlain J, determined that virtual meetings will not be permitted after 7th May 2021, see Hertfordshire CC & others v SoS Housing Communities and Local Government & others [2021] EWHC 1093 (Admin). That is the date the Local Authorities and Police and Crime Panels (Coronavirus) (Flexibility of Local Authority and Police and Crime Panel Meetings) (England and Wales) Regulations 2020 (SI 2020/392) (the Flexibility Regulations) cease to have effect. Notwithstanding apparent support for the challenge by the Government, the court made two matters quite clear:-

(a) Primary legislation would be required to allow local authority “meetings” under the 1972 Act to take place remotely.

(b) Once the Flexibility Regulations cease to apply, such meetings must take place at a single, specified geographical location; attending a meeting at such a location means physically going to it; and being “present” at such a meeting involves physical presence at that location.

The Court has still to determine one subsidiary issue

(c) Whether a meeting which is required by the 1972 Act to take place in person is “open to the public” or “held in public” if the only means by which the public are permitted to access it are remote.

In light of the Court’s reasoning, it would appear unlikely that virtual attendance will suffice but that element of flexibility may still survive.

To view the judgement, please click here.