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A screenshot from Grace Lally’s film of the interchange, 24 Jan 2024.

‘You cannot record this meeting’

At the 24 January Borough Council meeting, an attempt was made to prevent members of the public from filming the proceedings, which they have a right to do. Andrea Needham reports.

At the 24 January Hastings Borough Council (HBC) meeting, Green councillor Tony Collins asked why the council has been silent on the situation in Gaza. (HOT readers may recall that two Green councillors were refused permission to bring a motion calling for a ceasefire in Gaza to HBC’s 22 Nov meeting. The Monitoring Officer – an unelected official – had ruled that such a motion did not ‘[affect] the lives of people in the Borough of Hastings’.)

Grace Lally, a local Palestine Solidarity Campaign supporter, started filming from the public gallery as Cllr Collins stood up to ask his question. But almost immediately, the legal officer sitting at the front of the meeting looked over at Grace, and then spoke quietly into the ear of the chair, Labour councillor and mayor Margi O’Callaghan.

Cllr O’Callaghan responded by saying, “Members of the public in the gallery, you cannot record this meeting or take photographs.” She went on to say that you have to ask for permission two days in advance if you want to film a meeting, and added that if Grace didn’t stop, she would adjourn the meeting. When Grace continued to hold the phone up, the legal officer repeated that she needed to get permission.

Watching this footage, I was open-mouthed in amazement. That the legal officer didn’t know the rules on filming public meetings – rules which were brought in a decade ago – is absolutely staggering. And for her to advise the mayor – who ought to know the rules as well – to threaten to adjourn the meeting if Grace didn’t stop filming is totally unacceptable.

Grace wasn’t aware of the legislation, but to her credit she didn’t back down. She argued that it was a public meeting so she should be allowed to film and suggested that councillors be asked if they minded being filmed. Interestingly at this point the legal officer was looking at something being pointed out to her on a laptop by the much younger officer next to her, and rather than continue to insist that permission was needed, she herself asked councillors if they objected. Nobody did, so Grace was allowed to carry on.

Could it be that the other officer had pointed out that members of the public have a right to film council meetings?

Hastings campaigners at the Ceasefire Now! demonstration in London on 13 January 2024. Photo: Hastings Palestine Solidarity Campaign

Grace says: ‘Councillor Collins was asking the question on our behalf after many local residents had been repeatedly turned down in requests to ask questions about Gaza on the grounds it was not ‘relevant’ to people in Hastings. I wanted to film the question and answer so we could share it with our many supporters who have been deeply disappointed by the silence from Hastings council in the past three months.

‘I didn’t want to stop filming because, to be honest, I just felt it was deeply insulting and disrespectful about the seriousness of the issue being discussed, for the chair to threaten to adjourn the whole meeting over this petty, authoritarian and nonsensical rule about filming – given that the council themselves film the meeting and stream it online!

‘It would be nice if our political representatives used their little bit of power and their public platform to take a stand on things that really matter.’

‘No prior permission is required’

Whether or not someone is allowed to film, photograph or record a meeting should not be at the whim of the people in charge. There is clear legislation that it’s allowed in all council meetings that are open to the public.

So, just in case the legal officer is reading this, here are the rules. They’re set out in the Openness of Local Government Bodies Regulations 2014 and allow members of the public to film, photograph, or make an audio recording of any meeting of a local government body which is open to the public – no prior notification or permission required.

The legislation itself isn’t easy to read, but helpfully, there’s a plain English guide available which includes the following paragraph (p.5):

Councils and other local government bodies are required to allow any member of the public to take photographs, film and audio-record the proceedings, and report on all public meetings. While no prior permission is required to carry out this activity, it is advisable that any person wishing to film or audio-record a public meeting let their local government staff know so that all necessary arrangements can be made for the public meeting (emphasis added)

It couldn’t be much plainer. Inform the council in advance if you wish – it might be worth doing if you want to set up a camera and tripod which needs a bit of space – but there is absolutely no obligation to do so. And you certainly don’t need permission.

‘Perhaps we should all start filming’

I have emailed the democratic services department of the council twice about this, asking them to make it clear to officers and councillors that filming is allowed, and to amend the page on the website which incorrectly says you have to give two days’ notice. So far I have not even had an acknowledgement of my emails.

Perhaps we should all start filming or photographing any council meetings we attend, if only to emphasise that this is our right, and to ensure that the council gets it. My advice is to have the legislation readily to hand when you’re planning on filming, so you can whip it out if there’s any attempt to stop you. The legal officer appears not to know what our rights are, but let’s make sure we do!

Footage of the interchange at the 24 Jan meeting can be viewed here.

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Posted 18:25 Wednesday, Jan 31, 2024 In: Campaigns

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