16 December 2014

Filming of Marchington Parish Council Officers and Meetings

Our Reference:
2014-005

Public Authority:
Marchington Parish Council, Staffordshire.

Background Information:
We were asked to enquire about information held by Marchington Parish Council on the subject of members of the public filming or otherwise recording Council meetings and officers. This request came after a member of the public, in accordance with new legislation, unsuccessfully attempted to film the Council meeting of 11th November 2014. Marchington Parish Council decided to abandon the meeting and seek further legal advice about whether or not members of the public were permitted to film.



The request was placed on 11th December 2014 and the public authority provided a response on 16th 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.

Marchington 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 Marchington 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.

I am aware that Marchington Parish Council, in contravention of this new legislation, abandoned its meeting of 11th November 2014 when a member of the public chose to exercise their legal right to film under the new Regulations.

Please provide the following information:

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

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

3. All correspondence produced by Marchington 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 Marchington Parish Council. By Marchington Parish Council, I also mean any committee, councillor or council officer acting on behalf of Marchington Parish Council or in the capacity of a member of Marchington 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

Response by Marchington Parish Council (received 16th December 2014):
Marchington Parish Council provided the following information in response to each point of our request:

1. All policy documentation produced by Marchington Parish Council, which relates to members of the public taking photographs or otherwise recording proceedings at council meetings.
  • No policy documentation has yet been produced, however Marchington Parish Council are currently looking at producing documentation in line with the NLCC Media Policy Example – No14.pdf. This will be carried out in the new year.
2. All correspondence produced by Marchington Parish Council, which relates to members of the public taking photographs or otherwise recording proceedings at the council meetings.
  • Please find attached Minutes of the meeting dated 11th November 2014 and Minutes of meeting dated 18th November 2014 and Chairman’s Report.
3. All correspondence produced by Marchington Parish Council, which relates to members of the public taking photographs or otherwise recording the actions of councillors or council officers.
  • Please find attached email from Legal Department, East Staffordshire Borough Council following my telephone conversation with them regarding the previous events and email arranging the reconvened meeting.
Supporting Material:
Material supporting this request can be viewed here.

Analysis:
As mentioned on our About page, the authors of FOI By Proxy are strong advocates of transparent government, public accountability and the right to report. On the face of it Marchington Parish Council, by denying a local resident his legal right to film its meeting of 11th November 2014, has eroded all three of those principles. 

In our opinion the video footage obtained that evening, when considered in isolation, casts Marchington Parish Council in a negative light. It shows a Parish Council clearly unaware of topical new legislation, which permits members of the public to film.

Notwithstanding the voluntary status of Parish Council members, we are of the opinion that Marchington Parish Council should have been aware of that legislation. The video shows Parish Councillors, who should be firmly embracing the principle of public accountability, seemingly unable to comprehend the idea that anyone would exercise their legal right to film just for the sake of it. That is very disappointing. Information provided by Marchington Parish Council indicates that some Parish Councillors feel so strongly on the issue of filming that they have actually tendered their resignations.

During the course of our request we have also heard the Parish Council's side of the story, which we consider goes some way towards mitigating its actions of that evening. 

According to the Parish Council, it was caught off guard when a local resident appeared and started filming proceedings part-way through the meeting. The Parish Council claims, perhaps not unreasonably, that had it been forewarned of his intention to film, it would have made every effort to facilitate that request. It would also have had the opportunity to make legal enquiries, thus confirming the legitimacy of his actions, prior to his attendance at the meeting.

The Parish Council reconvened on 18th November 2014 and the Acting Chairman opened with an apology for earlier events and acknowledgement that the Parish Council had misunderstood the legislation. The Acting Chairman indicated that the Parish Council now recognises the public's right to film and will be more amenable to filming in the future.

We now turn to Marchington Parish Council's handling of our request for information. Having viewed footage of the meeting of 11th November 2014 we had half expected the Parish Council to fail in its statutory obligations under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. We are pleased to report that we were mistaken in our pessimistic outlook. The Parish Council has actually handled our request in a very timely and efficient manner, for which we are grateful. It has taken only 3 working days for Marchington Parish Council to respond, which is very commendable and sets a high benchmark that other public authorities can aspire to.

Given Marchington Parish Council's helpful manner in dealing with our request, we should have no reason to pursue this matter any further. We will, however, maintain a keen interest in the Parish Council's future affairs.

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