18 December 2014

Filming of Beyton Parish Council Officers and Meetings

Our Reference:
2014-006

Public Authority:
Beyton Parish Council, Suffolk.

Background Information:
We were asked to enquire about information held by Beyton Parish Council on the subject of members of the public filming or otherwise recording Council meetings and officers. This request came after video footage was uploaded to YouTube, which shows the Parish Council refusing a member of public's legal right to film the meeting of 8th September 2014. The individual filming the meeting, Sandy Maynard, is in disagreement with the Parish Council over the manner in which its geese are being kept on the village green.



The request was placed on 11th December 2014 and the public authority provided a response on 18th December 2014, which was well within the 20 working day statutory time limit. On this occasion the public authority disclosed the requested information in full.

Beyton Parish Council is to be commended for the speedy and efficient manner in which it processed this request.

Request by FOI By Proxy (sent 11th December 2014):
Dear Beyton Parish Council,

I am making this request under the terms of section 1 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

As the Parish Council might be aware new legislation, specifically The Openness of Local Government Bodies Regulations 2014, requires that councils allow any members of the public to take photographs, film or audio-record public meetings. No prior permission is required by any member of the public choosing to record meetings in this way.

Please provide the following information:

1. All policy documentation produced by Beyton Parish Council, which relates to members of the public taking photographs or otherwise recording proceedings at council meetings.

2. All correspondence produced by Beyton Parish Council, which relates to members of the public taking photographs or otherwise recording proceedings at the council meetings.

3. All correspondence produced by Beyton Parish Council, which relates to members of the public taking photographs or otherwise recording the actions of councillors or council officers.

If the scope of this request is too wide for compliance within the appropriate cost limits, please confine your response to information held since 1st January 2013.

By correspondence, I mean any electronic message or physical letter/note held by Beyton Parish Council. By Beyton Parish Council, I also mean any committee, councillor or council officer acting on behalf of Beyton Parish Council or in the capacity of a member of Beyton Parish Council.

In accordance with section 11 of the Act, please provide your response in electronic format to the return email address associated with this request.

For the avoidance of doubt, the Council's full response to this request will be published online at our website.

Many thanks for your assistance with this matter.

Yours faithfully,

[Name]
On behalf of FOI By Proxy

Acknowledgement by Beyton Parish Council (received 12th December 2014):
Dear Sirs,

Thank you for your email dated 11 December 2014. We will respond to you shortly in this regard.

Yours faithfully,

BEYTON PARISH COUNCIL

Follow Up by Beyton Parish Council (received 1532 hrs, 17th December 2014):
Dear Sirs,

Having responded to your earlier email, I now find that we cannot respond electronically to this request, but are, of course, happy to post such information.

Would you please, therefore, let me have your postal address BY RETURN EMAIL.

Many thanks
Beyton Parish Council

Follow Up by Beyton Parish Council (received 1549 hrs, 17th December 2014):
Dear Sirs,

Further to my earlier acknowledgement of your email below, as a Parish Council, we do not possess the equipment to redact personal information from the information you have requested.

We can, of course, provide this information, but it would have to be by post.  Would you, therefore, by return, email advise your postal address, so that the information can be posted to you as soon as possible.

Many thanks

Parish Clerk
Beyton Parish Council

Follow Up by FOI By Proxy (sent 1605 hrs, 17th December 2014):
Dear Beyton Parish Council,

Thank you for your email, which I find somewhat surprising.

I can understand, at a push, that the Parish Council maybe does not possess equipment capable of scanning documents it has manually redacted, however, it should not be beyond the capabilities of the Parish Council to have someone else scan the documents on its behalf (even if the Parish Council has to pay for that service, given the £450 upper cost limit applicable in this case).

I would remind the Parish Council that it is legally obliged to provide the information requested in my preferred format if reasonably practicable. I am struggling to envisage a situation where the Parish Council is unable to achieve that.

Please can you consider this a bit further. If, having pondered for a couple of days, the Parish Council still thinks it is unable to send the information electronically, then I will be happy to send a postal address.

Yours sincerely,

[Name]
On behalf of FOI By Proxy
 
Response by Beyton Parish Council (received 18th December 2014):
Dear [Name]

In response to your email dated 11 December 2014, we attach pertinent documents as requested.

Yours sincerely

[Name]
Parish Clerk

Supporting Material:
Material supporting this request can be viewed here.

Analysis:
Our interest stems entirely from information received that Beyton Parish Council may not be allowing members of the public to freely record meetings as required by new legislation, The Openness of Local Government Bodies Regulations 2014. It is claimed that Beyton Parish Council prevented Ms Maynard from exercising her legal right to film the meeting of 8th September 2014.

Documents released by the Parish Council (see supporting material) leave little doubt that it was notified of the public's right to film its meetings. On 6th August 2014, the day the new legislation came into force, the Parish Council received an email reminding of its obligations to allow public filming. The Parish Clerk forwarded that reminder email to all Councillors on the same day. Prior to 6th August 2014 the Parish Clerk received several other circulars outlining the changes in legislation.

Given those events, which are beyond dispute, it seems strange that the Parish Council and clerk had apparently forgotten the new legislation only a month later, when Ms Maynard attempted to film proceedings on 8th September 2014. In response to seeing Ms Maynard's camera, the chairman voiced his strong opposition to being filmed and the meeting was drawn to an undignified close.

Within an hour of the meeting being abandoned the Parish Clerk, no doubt realising the procedural error that had just taken place, forwarded the 6th August 2014 email trail to Councillors for a second time.

It is clear that the Parish Council knew about the legislation, but had simply forgotten or ignored it on the evening of 8th September 2014. Because of that forgetfulness or ignorance, a member of the public was deprived of their legal right to film.

17 comments:

  1. The parish council allow filming of the parish council meetings, This is a none issue and a complete waste of public money and misuse of the FOI act.

    ReplyDelete
  2. The video above tends to disagree with your analysis.
    The Freedom of Information Act 2000 allows any member of the public to request any information they like, for whatever reason they like. They do not need to justify their request to anyone, in the same way that any anyone has the right to film Parish Council meetings without justification.
    For that reason we also disagree with your assertion that it was a waste of public money and misuse of the Act.
    It's clearly an important enough issue for someone to get in touch and ask us to make the request.

    ReplyDelete
  3. This video was made in September when the parish council were unaware of the law change (arguably they should have been but weren't). Every parish council meeting since this one has been Filmed by Mrs Maynard therefore I repeat this is a none issue. If you had taken the time to do a search for 'Beyton parish council' on youtube you would see several other meetings that have been filmed and uploaded. Please note that Mrs Maynard is using this Law as a vehicle to harass the parish council because she disagrees with the decision to re-release geese onto the village green, it has very little to do with the openness of the council.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Please also note that the 'code of conduct' in the Law states that ideally the person filming should give notice of the fact they intend to film. In this case Mrs Maynard gave no notice of the filming, had she done so the situation highlighted in this video could have been avoided. (I agree the council should have read their emails and been aware of this change in Law beforehand however the fact is they missed this detail). The Parish council is now aware of the law change and all subsequent meetings have been filmed. Given this information I re-assert it is a complete waste of public money to get the council to pay money to scan documents in this case when the law is being complied with.

    ReplyDelete
  5. This video was made in September when the Parish Council WAS aware of the law. I see you have corrected yourself, so perhaps you have now seen the evidence of that in the supporting documents.

    Guidance may suggest that Mrs Maynard informs the Parish Council beforehand, but the law does not require it. The law does, however, require the Parish Council to make reasonable provision to allow anyone to film its meetings. Note the word anyone. Note also that no prior permission is needed, nor does the Parish Council need to give its approval.

    By making the Parish Council scan the documents (as the legislation requires they do, if it's reasonably practicable) I have saved them a small fortune in postage.

    Joining the dots here, and I may be mistaken, but I'd suggest that you are close to the Parish Council in question. If so, can I suggest you might like to email us instead and we'll happily discuss this matter further.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm nothing to do with the Parish council. Joining the dots here, and I may be mistaken, I'd suggest you are close to Mrs Maynard.

      Delete
    2. Please note. I did not 'Correct myself' as I hadn't stated anything incorrectly.

      I had also acknowledged that the law does not require notification of filming in my original post, but it does suggest that it is good practice to give advance notice. Given the law had only just changed it would have been polite and prudent to have given notice beforehand and would have avoided the situation created in filmed in the September meeting..

      Delete
    3. You incorrectly stated, in your comment of 20:06, that "This video was made in September when the parish council were unaware of the law change". The Parish Council did know about the law at that point. That is beyond dispute, as the information disclosed by the Parish Council reveals.
      As I said, should you wish to discuss this matter further then you are very welcome to email.

      Delete
    4. The video from September clearly shows that those parish councillors present at the meeting didn't know of the law change. I have already stated that they should have known as I acknowledged they had been notified of the law change. Therefore I have stated nothing incorrectly.

      Delete
  6. Given the council allow meetings to be filmed what is the purpose of your current action?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I suggest you read our About page.

      Briefly, the way it works is as follows:
      - People ask us to make Freedom of Information requests on their behalf.
      - If we think the case is semi-interesting then we'll place the request on their behalf.
      - By disclosing information, the public authority (Beyton PC in this case) acknowledges the public's right to see it. We publish the disclosed information here, so the public can see it.

      That is where our interest begins and ends. We are not particularly interested in geese or power-struggles in sleepy little Suffolk villages.

      As I've said twice already, if you'd like to discuss this further please feel free to email. People reading these comments will be drawing the conclusion, rightly or wrongly, that Beyton PC objects to being asked for information under the FOIA. That could serve to draw more negative attention to Beyton PC and the village, which would be unfortunate. As mentioned in our request above, we have been very satisfied with the way Beyton PC has handled our request.

      Delete
    2. Thanks for the response.

      I chose not to reply by email because I wanted my questions and your responses to be visible.

      If your interest begins and ends in ensuring the public sees relevant information then you should avoid making condescending remarks regarding sleepy Suffolk villages and stick to the task in hand in an objective way.

      Delete
    3. It certainly wasn't intended as a condescending remark. More of a reflection of the tranquil nature of a rural village with a population of less than 1000.

      Delete
  7. Just to provide an update on this issue I'm informed by my neighbour who attended last nights parish council meeting that Mrs Maynard turned up but refused to film in the area put aside for her but insisted she wanted to film from amongst the public seating area. The chairman explained clearly her rights to film and the councils obligations in allowing her to film. She was also told that the parish council had spoken to both the CPS and the Police and have no case to answer.

    ReplyDelete
  8. We have now had a chance to view video footage of the Beyton Parish Council meeting of 5th January 2015. The opening of the meeting is shown here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ehNzsxJt4ng
    It is fair to say we have serious concerns about the manner in which the meeting was conducted. Readers will understand our concern when we explain that the lady wearing the glasses, who does her utmost to prevent recording of the meeting, is actually the Chairman's wife. That's the same Chairman who has made his disapproval of the public's right to film very well known.

    This story still has considerable mileage, so stay tuned for updates.

    ReplyDelete
  9. To update, last nights meeting 2nd Feb was recorded in its entirety by the PC and will be uploaded in its complete edited form to the internet.

    ReplyDelete
  10. The only reason that the meeting on 2nd February was uneventful was that the parish council knew that the police would be there and thought that the press would be too.However it was not very welcoming either with one of the councillors reading out a very forthright E mail from someone called Jack and implying that a Beyton resident had written it!

    ReplyDelete

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