Local Audit and Accountability Bill

Written evidence from John Brace (LAA 05)

1. I attend most meetings of my local Council (Wirral Council) and also of other public bodies (such as the local integrated transport authority known as 'Merseytravel') when there is a matter of local interest on the agenda.

2. Meetings I attend at Wirral Council I film on my own HD camera with tripod, uploading the footage to my Youtube channel at http://www.youtube.com/level80 . I receive a small amount from Google for advertising on these videos. In addition to this I blog about my local Council at http://www.johnbrace.com/ and write about it on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/level80 .

3. My submission is about new clause NC4. I am pleased there would be consistency across local councils, integrated transport authorities and fire and rescue authorities as currently in my local area these bodies have completely different policies on filming (although all of them receive money from Council Tax). I would like to see police and crime panels and the audit committee of the local Police and Crime Commissioner added to the bodies in this section. The metropolitan police authorities (if they still existed) would have been covered by 6(h), so it would seem to make sense to add the bodies that succeeded the police authorities.

4. I personally would prefer that the matter of filming was dealt with through primary legislation rather than through secondary legislation.

5. I do not believe it would be possible to provide an oral report or commentary on a public meeting without disrupting the meeting itself.

6. My current understanding of the legal position regarding filming is that local Council's do not currently have a legal power to stop filming. They have a legal duty under s.6 of the Human Rights Act 1998 c.42 which states "It is unlawful for a public authority to act in a way which is incompatible with a Convention right" in respect of article 10 (freedom of expression).

7. With regards to facilities in 2(b), generally for print journalists with a shorthand notepad facilities was interpreted by most public bodies as a table to sit at during the meeting. For filming I would want the definition of facilities to be given somewhere to film that there is a clear view of the meeting. Others have suggested to me that facilities provided should include public wi-fi and/or access to the audio system so that clearer recordings can be made.

8. I have concerns about 2(c) "the steps to be taken by persons before carrying out such activities" and 2(d) "about the circumstances in which persons may not carry on such activities, including for enabling a person specified in the regulations to prevent them from doing so in the circumstances specified in the regulations" and would like to see these not included. These bodies already have the power to exclude the press and public from part of their meeting (which effectively prevents filming of these parts of the meeting).

9. The only circumstances I can think of where I wouldn't personally film are meetings of the Licensing Act 2003 Subcommittee where the police have requested a pub, club or bar's licence be reviewed on crime and disorder grounds. Often the police go into detail (in public session) of the names of persons arrested, charged and the circumstances surrounding this. Publication of this sort of material is already covered by the Contempt of Court Act 1981.

10. You may wish to include The Local Authorities (Executive Arrangements) (Meetings and Access to Information) (England) Regulations 2012 in s.5 of NC4 as Regulation 20(4) has been used as a justification to prevent filming (numerous times at public meetings to which it doesn't apply).

11. I welcome a legal requirement on local councils to allow filming of their public meetings, but unless a criminal offence (offences are referred to in 3(d) but it is unclear whether this is in reference to filming and/or the notice/inspection provisions) is created if bodies try to prevent filming, the only recourse those affected will have is judicial review. Local authorities have effectively a bottomless taxpayer funded pit to pay for legal advice (compared to someone starting a judicial review who would generally be a litigant-in-person). The high costs of losing a judicial review, plus lack of legal aid would deter the majority of people (despite any merits and the clear public interest of establishing caselaw in this area) from starting challenging a public body in this way.

12. I hope the Committee takes the above into account when considering clause NC4 and I watch developments on the Local Audit and Accountability Bill with great interest.

November 2013

Prepared 13th November 2013