17 May 2024

Blog: 17th May 2024 - Helen McGrath, LLG Executive Director of Policy & Governance

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It’s been three years and here we are still talking not only about remote meeting provision in England but whether or not and in what circumstances a local authority can in fact hold a meeting remotely.

One particular area of discussion once the sunset clause fell below the horizon was the circumstances around licensing. There was a mixed view on this. A number of commentators and lawyers alike considered (quite strongly) that on the basis the licencing regime is governed by the Licensing Act 2003, it did not face the same difficulties as meetings under the Local Government Act 1972 (think ‘place’ here); neither was it caught by the judgement in in R (Hertfordshire County Council) v Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government [2021] EWHC 1093 (Admin). Whilst others were more cautious in approach to licensing meetings, LLG highlighted the regime differences and basically concluded that ultimately, it would take judicial determination to know for sure whether licensing committees could lawfully meet remotely, – and we are about to get it.

This week, the High Court heard an appeal by nightclub (Silks) situated in the London Borough of Lewisham, against the judgement of District Judge Abdel Sayed at Bromley Magistrates’ Court, who held that the Borough could lawfully hold licensing hearings remotely on the basis that the Licensing Act 2003 and the Licensing Act (Hearings) Regulations 2005 applied. The High Court will specifically examine whether remote meeting platforms are capable of being used in licensing matters and in consequence, is of immense interest to the sector and could have real implications for some authorities. Mr Justice Chamberlain reserved judgement as was to be expected, and as soon as judgement is available, LLG will be sure to disseminate it.  

I can’t help thinking that all this time and resource could have been saved by the government specifically legislating for remote meeting provision back in 2021. Just to recap what we have done; LLG along with ADSO brought Judicial Review Proceedings (with thanks to Hertfordshire) and crowd-funded, we responded to the Call for Evidence, we kept the issue alive in the press even obtaining support from ‘mumsnet’ no less! We submitted an FOI request to obtain the Call for Evidence and challenged the determination that although it was in the public interest it was a ‘vexatious burden’ (to no avail however). We have constantly worked throughout the last three years with an amazing array of stakeholder organisations including ADSO, NALC, CfGS and SLCC to lobby the government. We witnessed on two occasions the House of Lords passing amendments to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill to make provision only to see it overturned in the Commons.

There have been many moments where a glimpse of hope shone through on remote meeting provision in England only to be dashed. But we are nothing but resilient at LLG, and I will continue to press the message and lobby for change, (whilst looking longingly over the boarder to Wales and considering a move!).

Helen McGrath

Executive Director of Policy & Governance


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