No secret cabinet meeting for Grenfell Tower council

A judge has ordered a London council to lift a ban on the media reporting on the first meeting of councillors to discuss the Grenfell Tower disaster, after a legal challenge by the Guardian and other media groups.

Downing Street had expressed concern after survivors of the fire and members of the media were barred from the Kensington and Chelsea council cabinet meeting on Thursday evening which was to hear a report about the blaze.

The council had opted to hold a private cabinet meeting to hear an oral report about the fire, citing the potential for disorder, and previous threats against staff. Such meetings are usually open to the public.

The meeting was to be led by the council’s Conservative leader, Nicholas Paget-Brown, who has been widely criticised in the wake of the fire.

However, a court application by the Guardian and five other media groups saw the high court order the council to admit members of the media with press cards.

Downing Street had said it wanted all parties involved in the fire aftermath “to be as open and transparent as possible, both with residents and the wider public, to ensure full confidence in the response effort”.

A spokeswoman said: “We would encourage everyone involved to respect this wherever possible.”

Labour’s Andrew Gwynne, the shadow communities secretary, had also urged the council to reconsider. “In order to deliver a response that survivors, residents and the wider public can trust, there is no room for anything less than complete transparency,” he said.

The decision to bar survivors and the wider public from the meeting followed protests two days after the fire, in which at least 79 people died, when angry residents stormed the town hall.

The council said the decision to exclude the public was made in accordance with its own standing orders “which are confirmed in common law”.”

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jun/29/grenfell-survivors-barred-from-council-meeting-about-fire

Er, seems the council’s legal officer might not be quite up to scratch – Owl thinks that common law is that made by case law and the judge just made the appropriate case law!

Take note EDDC!

One thought on “No secret cabinet meeting for Grenfell Tower council

  1. I believe that public access to council meetings is guaranteed by the Openness of Local Government Bodies Regulations 2014 which form part of the Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014.

    Common Law is really a short-hand for de-facto practices where there is no explicit legislation in place. In other words, any explicit legislation, like the above, trumps any claim of “Common Law”.

    The Council’s Standing Orders (which form part of the Council’s constitution) can be found here: https://www.rbkc.gov.uk/sites/default/files/atoms/files/Rules%20of%20Procedure%20-%20Council%20Standing%20Orders.pdf and section 8 is clear about the right of public access.

    The only conclusions we can come to are that:

    a. The council’s legal officer is incapable of understanding even the basics of law and hasn’t actually read the council’s standing orders (how competent is that?); OR

    b. The council was illegally trying to hold its meetings in secret because it wants to avoid being held accountable by angry residents.

    Or possibly both. You can decide for yourself.

    But perhaps it is worth reflecting on how similar EDDC is to K&C? Certainly their approach to finances and transparency and accountability seem to be quite similar. Perhaps the only difference is that the terrible fire has shone a spotlight on K&C whilst EDDC has not had the same unavoidable scrutiny?

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