So-called ‘hybrid’ meetings - where some councillors are present in a committee room and others participate remotely - are unlawful “under the current situation as it stands at the moment”, Lawyers in Local Government (LLG) and the Association of Democratic Services Officers (ADSO) have concluded.
A more detailed statement is available for LLG and ADSO members on their respective websites. At issue is the relationship between the Local Authorities and Police and Crime Panels (Coronavirus) (Flexibility of Local Authority Police and Crime Panel Meetings) (England and Wales) Regulations 2020 No.392 and The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020.
Speaking on LLG’s latest COVID-19 Weekly Brief, John Austin, chairman of ADSO, said: “The main reasons that we have come to that view is that they do not in our view meet the exemptions that are set out in the regulations.
“They also constitute meetings or gatherings of two or more people indoors.”
Austin emphasised that this view was based on the situation as it stands at the moment. “Things could change very quickly as the lockdown restrictions are relaxed, so we need to keep a very close eye on that and review when necessary.”
He added that councils could still prepare for hybrid meetings if they wish. “So when we get the green light, when the situation changes, those councils are ready to go.”
The ADSO chair said he knew that a number of councils have already held hybrid meetings already and a number wished to carry on with them. That was a decision for each individual authority to make, he suggested.
Austin added that LLG and ADSO had considered the legality of those decisions that may have already been taken at hybrid meetings.
“We do not consider that they are invalid, providing the normal rules applying to the calling of those meetings and the Virtual Hearings Regulations were complied with at the time.”
LGC has reported that the Local Government Association has called on ministers to amend the regulations to allow hybrid meetings to take place.
Helen McGrath, Head of Public Affairs at LLG, told Local Government Lawyer: "With the pace of change accelerating from the government, we could find ourselves very soon in a position where the possibility of holding a hybrid meetings does not require reliance on an exemption. With that in mind, we have already begun work with ADSO to produce a guidance which takes into account the more complex operational elements of holding a meeting both in person and virtually. We are also considering what our vision might be for any continued virtual meeting provision post May 2020."