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> Photography and Filming in Council Meetings, The Local Audit and Accountability Bill
Simon Kirby
post Jan 28 2014, 01:58 PM
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The Local Audit and Accountability Bill is currently going through the final ping-pong stage which looks likely to create a right to film council meetings. At present if you want to film or take a photo at a council meeting there is a significant risk that an uppity clerk could call the police and have you arrested. You'd not be doing anything illegal and the police don't actually have any power of arrest if all you're doing is quietly filming or snapping the proceedings, but it's happened that people have been carted off to the cells in handcuffs for just that, only to be released without charge. Utterly appalling in what is supposed to be a free society.

You already have a right under the Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act 1960 to attend meetings of the full parish council and its committees, though that right doesn't extend to sub-committees, but it's helpful here to understand what a committee and sub-committee is - a committee is a meeting which has its power to make decisions delegated directly by the council, and a sub-committee is a meeting which has its power to make decisions delegated by a committee.

So for our own town council its committees are the Policy & Resources Committee; Community Services Committee, Civic Pride, Arts & Leisure Committee, and the Planning & Highways Committee, but also the confisingly-named Urgency Sub-Committee which is technically a committee. You don't currently have a right to attend a Grants Sub-Committee or a Staff Sub-Committee.

So you shouldn't actually need a right to take a photo or video of a councillor or officer in a council meeting because it's not disruptive and the only power the council has is to evict you from the meeting if you're being disruptive, but in practice councillors and officers can be very unhappy indeed about their business being exposed to public scrutiny and criticism - but that's the cornerstone of a free society and it's very important to assert that right.

I think you might be surprised at some of the harridan harpies and knuckle-dragging halfwits that people local government. Voting for someone on the strength of their party affiliation alone does not create good local government and exposing the arrogance, vanity, self-serving, and good old-fashioned ignorance, fear and prejudice that exists in local councils should do wonders for accountability.


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Simon Kirby
post Jan 28 2014, 02:12 PM
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And having been unkind to UKIP the other day, I thought you might be interested in this chap's experience trying to film a meeting of the Huntingdonshire District Council. The bejeweled chairwoman Barbara Boddington is like something from a Carry On film, and the Head of Legal, Head of Democratic Services and Monitoring Officer Colin Meadowcroft gives a superb immitation of Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz with his protestation that the chap simply hasn't followed the required procedure to film, with the forms presumably available in a disused council lavatory with a sign on the door saying “Beware of the Leopard”.

Anyhoo, UKIP Cllr Peter Reeve is the only one of the lot of them who appears to have any sense and he comes over extremely well, which I have to admit reflects very well on UKIP too. That's the power of actually seeing the process in action.


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Dodgys smarter b...
post Jan 28 2014, 03:57 PM
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QUOTE (Simon Kirby @ Jan 28 2014, 03:12 PM) *
Head of Legal, Head of Democratic Services and Monitoring Officer Colin Meadowcroft gives a superb immitation of Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz

Did he write poetry as well then? I mean. I've heard that some of their metaphysical imagery is particularly effective.
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Strafin
post Jan 28 2014, 07:36 PM
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I really enjoyed reading that!
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On the edge
post Jan 28 2014, 10:23 PM
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Loved the film, you can see how the 'chain of office' makes all the difference - well worth the expense....not.


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Cognosco
post Jan 29 2014, 04:28 PM
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Well the Carry On films proved popular so perhaps filming NTC meetings may cheer precept payers up by giving them a good laugh or perhaps sending them to a good sleep? laugh.gif

But seriously I can see why Councillors don't want to be filmed as it may give a far wider audience the knowledge of what their Councillors do is a complete waste of precept payers money! rolleyes.gif


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Simon Kirby
post Jan 29 2014, 04:46 PM
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QUOTE (Cognosco @ Jan 29 2014, 04:28 PM) *
But seriously I can see why Councillors don't want to be filmed as it may give a far wider audience the knowledge of what their Councillors do is a complete waste of precept payers money! rolleyes.gif

Quite so. In the Huntingdonshire example it was incredibly insightful to see how pompous and officious out elected officials can be for absolutely no good reason whatsoever - it's wasn't as though there was anything that shouldn't have been filmed, the chap only had the same access as any other citizen might have exercised on the night, the only thing the council could have been embarrassed about was their arrogance, and that really did come over.


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Simon Kirby
post Jan 29 2014, 04:52 PM
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QUOTE (On the edge @ Jan 28 2014, 10:23 PM) *
Loved the film, you can see how the 'chain of office' makes all the difference - well worth the expense....not.

biggrin.gif Yes, the chain of office really lent the occasion some dignity didn't it. Well worth £1,000 of Greenham Parish Council money for them to get one of those. Like they said, it must have been really difficult for all of those visiting dignitaries to take them seriously without a chain of office. wink.gif


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Strafin
post Jan 29 2014, 06:51 PM
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To be fair though, if womeone turned up at your work and wanted to film everything in case you screwed up you wouldn't like it either. I know it's not "work" exactly but that's the closest thing I could relate too.
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Simon Kirby
post Jan 29 2014, 07:43 PM
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QUOTE (Strafin @ Jan 29 2014, 06:51 PM) *
To be fair though, if womeone turned up at your work and wanted to film everything in case you screwed up you wouldn't like it either. I know it's not "work" exactly but that's the closest thing I could relate too.

It does happen in my work, and I'm happy with it.


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Lolly
post Jan 29 2014, 08:01 PM
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This issue has been rumbling on for a while and you have to wonder why Councillors are so resistant.

I found Richard Taylor's submission on the bill very interesting reading.

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/c.../memo/laa01.htm

It seems that there is one Council in his area that is open to the idea. I wonder what West Berkshire Council's stance is and whether that differs from our town/parish councils. Has anybody put it to the test?
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Lolly
post Jan 29 2014, 08:15 PM
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Answered my own question re West Berkshire Council by doing a quick Google search:

http://decisionmaking.westberks.gov.uk/doc...ecutive.pdf?T=9

The question is raised by Jeff Brookes and answered by Gordon Lundie. Whether the matter has been 'looked in to' as promised remains to be seen. I guess the only way to find out would be to turn up & try to film & see what happens. Is anybody brave enough? (I'm not!)
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Cognosco
post Jan 29 2014, 09:12 PM
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QUOTE (Lolly @ Jan 29 2014, 08:15 PM) *
Answered my own question re West Berkshire Council by doing a quick Google search:

http://decisionmaking.westberks.gov.uk/doc...ecutive.pdf?T=9

The question is raised by Jeff Brookes and answered by Gordon Lundie. Whether the matter has been 'looked in to' as promised remains to be seen. I guess the only way to find out would be to turn up & try to film & see what happens. Is anybody brave enough? (I'm not!)


It will take a camera man with a steady hand and a good tripod otherwise you will not see much as the camera will be jumping all over the chamber with his laughter! rolleyes.gif


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Simon Kirby
post Jan 29 2014, 09:49 PM
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QUOTE (Lolly @ Jan 29 2014, 08:15 PM) *
Answered my own question re West Berkshire Council by doing a quick Google search:

http://decisionmaking.westberks.gov.uk/doc...ecutive.pdf?T=9

The question is raised by Jeff Brookes and answered by Gordon Lundie. Whether the matter has been 'looked in to' as promised remains to be seen. I guess the only way to find out would be to turn up & try to film & see what happens. Is anybody brave enough? (I'm not!)

Gordon Lundie's answer was a good one I feel. - I don't know why Jeff Brooks was quite so po-faced - might have been good to see that on film to catch the nuance.

Gordon Lundie was of course right that Pickles' guidance (and the thrust of the bill) is that citizen-journalists should be facilitated in photographing and filming proceedings.

I think too much is being made of the issue of public attendees being inadvertently filmed. At the end of the day it isn't really the council's concern. In any event if the bill is passed which looks very likely now then the regulations which follow should oblige councils to facilitate filming so that really rather relieves them of any worry.

However, even with a right to film, would you want to exercise that right if the council could identify you and victimise you for any critical opinion you published about them alongside your footage and photos? Do you want to risk a life-long Vexatious Complainant designation delivered in public with no hearing, no review, and no appeal. Something to post on your blog I suppose, but hardly something you'd want to invite. There are links in the referenced article to councils who have called the police and had people arrested and taken away to the cells just for filming peacefully and quietly, so even with a right to film I wouldn't feel confident that a vindictive council wouldn't still call the police to arrest you just for being a declared Vexatious Complainant.

Your rights are only as good as your ability to enforce them, and if a council just chooses to deprive you of your rights then you really have very little you can do about it. Well, you have a sliver of a chance with a district council because they're subject to the largely ineffective and establishment-apologist Local Government Ombudsman, but parish councils are entirely a law unto themselves.


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Biker1
post Jan 30 2014, 09:06 AM
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QUOTE (Strafin @ Jan 29 2014, 08:51 PM) *
To be fair though, if womeone turned up at your work and wanted to film everything in case you screwed up you wouldn't like it either.

It's happened where I work!! wink.gif
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Exhausted
post Jan 30 2014, 09:38 PM
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QUOTE (Biker1 @ Jan 30 2014, 09:06 AM) *
It's happened where I work!! wink.gif


There is quite a difference between filming at work and filming a public meeting.
The former is usually about filming repetitive tasks as few companies would want to lose their competitive edge by filming board or management meetings. That said, there are dozens of cases where programmes on TV do just that. Clearly though and I am struggling to understand why, the Parkway people don't allow it although the emergency services seem to revel in it 'Cops on Camera' or whatever they call it...
As far as filming a council meeting, they are our elected servants and there should be no reason why the proceedings shouldn't be captured 'on film' so to speak. I agree that filming members of the public at those meetings should be avoided however. The concern that councils may have are that the recording could be doctored for youtube. Not that the pompous lady in the test film could come across any less 'spitting image'.

Are the council offices private property. If yes, they have a right, presumably in the way that the Parkway has, to prevent the use of a camera.
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Exhausted
post Jan 30 2014, 09:40 PM
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Pressed the wrong button.
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MontyPython
post Jan 30 2014, 10:17 PM
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QUOTE (Exhausted @ Jan 30 2014, 09:38 PM) *
As far as filming a council meeting, they are our elected servants and there should be no reason why the proceedings shouldn't be captured 'on film' so to speak. I agree that filming members of the public at those meetings should be avoided however.


Yes there should be a ban where either the public are speaking or their objections to a planning application are being revealed - unless the member of public specifically waives this right to privacy.

QUOTE (Exhausted @ Jan 30 2014, 09:38 PM) *
The concern that councils may have are that the recording could be doctored for youtube. Not that the pompous lady in the test film could come across any less 'spitting image'.


What like this?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=heR8c_7Venk
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Simon Kirby
post Jan 30 2014, 10:49 PM
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QUOTE (Exhausted @ Jan 30 2014, 09:38 PM) *
Are the council offices private property. If yes, they have a right, presumably in the way that the Parkway has, to prevent the use of a camera.

Not really. My take on it:

The council office is private property so you have no general right of access and certainly no general right to film on council property, but you do have a statutory right to attend council and committee meeting (unless the meeting resolves that it would be prejudicial to the public interest to admit the public), and you have the same right to attend whether the meeting is on council property or any other private property, and no one can prevent you attending or have you removed from those meetings other than if you are causing a nuisance.

Actually the words are:
QUOTE
The provisions of this section shall be without prejudice to any power of exclusion to suppress or prevent disorderly conduct or other misbehaviour at a meeting.


So maybe a council could successfully argue that filming in breach of their standing orders is "other misbehaviour".

So it would come down to whether your filming was a a nuisance, and if you're sitting there quiet as a mouse just pointing a camera at the proceedings it's very difficult to say that's a nuisance. Some councils have argued that their standing orders prohibit filming, but that doesn't actually give them the right to do anything about it.

Your right to attend meetings of public bodies comes from the Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act 1960 and applies to meetings of the full body, and also to its committees, but not to sub-committees or any other kind of meeting like working groups and staff meetings.


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Simon Kirby
post Jan 30 2014, 10:51 PM
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QUOTE (MontyPython @ Jan 30 2014, 10:17 PM) *
Yes there should be a ban where either the public are speaking or their objections to a planning application are being revealed - unless the member of public specifically waives this right to privacy.
R8c_7Venk[/url]

You have no general right to privacy. The meeting is open to the public, for good reason, and so anyone can step in off the street and see you there, and can read in the minutes what you said, so I can't see what the objection can be to being caught on film.


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