Some county council meetings will continue to be virtual despite court ruling

Quentin Baker, Herts County Council chief legal officer 

Quentin Baker, Herts County Council's chief legal officer - Credit: Herts County Council

County councillors in Hertfordshire are set to meet virtually this week – just weeks after the High Court ruled that council meetings must be ‘in person’.

Local authorities had been given temporary powers to hold all their meetings online, as part of the coronavirus regulations, but those regulations lapsed on May 6.

Despite a High Court bid by Herts County Council - overseen by the council's chief legal officer Quentin Baker - to allow all meetings to continue virtually, councils had been told to return to face-to-face meetings. However that ruling only applies to meetings that fall within the scope of the Local Government Act 1972.

The council is now planning to continue to hold its cabinet panel meetings online, which is allowed because the panels have an advisory – rather than a decision-making – role.

“The executive establishes cabinet panels to assist it in drawing up proposals for policy development and are not formal decision-making bodies,” said a county council spokesperson.

“Thus they are not subject to the same regulations requiring in-person meetings as a full council meeting.

“The current position for Herts County Council is that all cabinet panels will continue to be held virtually.

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“This will be regularly reviewed in line with national restrictions on indoor meetings and social distancing guidance.”

Meetings of the full council and the cabinet – and some other committees and boards – will be held in person.

Last month the council hired the Gordon Craig theatre in Stevenage, in order to hold its full council and cabinet meetings in person, while observing social distancing.

Meanwhile a physical location had been earmarked for the meeting of the Health and Wellbeing Board next week – which includes county council representatives, but that is now listed as an ‘informal’ meeting and is to be held virtually.

Elsewhere in the county, district and borough councils have taken a range of steps to hold in-person meetings, in line with the ruling while maintaining social distancing and other measures to halt the spread of COVID-19.

Those steps include the hire of alternative venues, adaptation of existing venues, restricting the numbers of councillors in attendance and the use of screens.

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