30 December 2014

Filming of Willington Parish Council Officers and Meetings

Our Reference:
2014-011

Public Authority:
Willington Parish Council, Derbyshire.

Background Information:
We were asked to enquire about information held by Willington Parish Council on the subject of members of the public filming or otherwise recording Council meetings and officers. This request comes after a member of the public experienced difficulty exercising his legal right to film Parish Council meetings.

New legislation, specifically The Openness of Local Government Bodies Regulations 2014, aims to enhance the openness and transparency of local government bodies, including Parish Councils. Under the new rules any member of the public has the right to take photographs, film and audio-record the proceedings of any public meeting. No prior permission is required for anyone choosing to exercise this right, nor are they obliged to inform the local government body beforehand.

Local government bodies are required, by law, to provide reasonable facilities to anyone wishing to report on the proceedings of a meeting. The new legislation overrules any existing local policies to the contrary.

This request was placed on 29th November 2014 and the public authority provided a response on 23rd December 2014, which was just within the 20 working day statutory time limit. After being prompted, Willington Parish Council made a second disclosure of information on 30th December 2014. On this occasion, as mentioned in our analysis below, it did take some extra effort to obtain relevant information from the public authority.

Request by FOI By Proxy (sent 29th November 2014):
Dear Willington 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 Willington Parish Council, which relates to members of the public taking photographs or otherwise recording proceedings at council meetings.

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

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

Many thanks for your assistance with this matter.

Yours faithfully

[Name]
On behalf of FOI By Proxy

Response by Willington Parish Council (received 23rd December 2014):
Dear Sir/Madam,

Further to your FOI request dated 29.11.14 below please find attached the only documentation that the Parish Council holds in relation to items 1 to 3.  Attached are the minutes of the meeting where the policy was adopted item 1869.  The second document is the policy document that was circulated and subsequently adopted.

If you are dissatisfied with the decision, then you have a right to appeal to the Information Commissioner:-
Information Commissioner's Office.
Wycliffe House,
Water Lane,
Wilmslow,
Cheshire SK9 5AF

Kind Regards

Parish Clerk
Willington Parish Council

Follow Up by FOI By Proxy (sent 23rd December 2014):
Dear Willington Parish Council,

Thank you for your response, which unfortunately does not fulfill your obligations under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

I happen to know, as a matter of fact, that the Parish Council holds email correspondence that contains relevant disclosable information. I appreciate that Willington Parish Council is probably unfamiliar with the Freedom of Information Act 2000, but I am very familiar with the legislation. The Parish Council may be of the mistaken belief that the content of emails is confidential, but that is not the case (especially when the content of such emails has already been mentioned, albeit in outline format, in certain YouTube videos).

As it's Christmas I shall give the Parish Council a few more days to consider my request. If I have not heard back from Willington Parish Council by 29th December 2014 - the expiry of the original 20 working day time limit for the issue of a response or valid refusal notice - then I shall proceed with an official internal review request, with the view of bringing this matter to the Commissioner's attention.

As I mentioned in my earlier email, the Parish Council's response to this request will be published online.

Many thanks for your continued consideration of this matter.

[Name]
On behalf of FOI By Proxy

Internal Review Request (sent 1412 hrs, 30th December 2014):
Dear Willington Parish Council,

Please conduct an internal review into the Parish Council's handling of my request for information "Filming of Council Officers and Meetings".

As indicated in my email of 23rd December 2014, contrary to the requirements of section 1 of the Act, I do not believe the Parish Council has considered or disclosed all of the information it should have done in its partial response of the same date.

Please note that the Parish Council's full response to this internal review request will be published on our website.

Many thanks for your continued consideration of this matter.

Yours sincerely

[Name]
On behalf of FOI By Proxy

Response by Willington Parish Council (received 1603 hrs, 30th December 2014):
Dear Sir/Madam

Further to your additional request 20 working days from the 29 November 2014 is Tuesday 30 December due to weekends and bank holidays.

Apologies further correspondence has been found relating to items 2/3, most of which is dated after your request was sent which is why it was missed.  However as the information is in response to a Parishioner’s questions which contains personal data which also may identifying this has been removed as per section 40 of the Act.  Therefore the data in isolation may not make full sense. The document containing all correspondence is attached.

Please note all correspondence is regularly cleansed when it has been dealt with due to the DPA and the high volume of correspondence that is received.

Kind Regards

Parish Clerk
Willington Parish Council

Follow Up by FOI By Proxy (sent 1652 hrs, 30th December 2014):
Thank you for that additional information.
Please retract my request for an internal review.
As you correctly mention, the Parish Council is only obliged to disclose information held at the time of my request, so I am grateful that you have disclosed relevant information beyond that date.

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

Analysis:
As briefly mentioned in the background information above, we have some concerns about the manner in which Willington Parish Council responded to this request.

The underlying principle of FOI By Proxy is that third-parties ask us to seek information, which they already know exists, on their behalf. That being the case it came as somewhat of a surprise when Willington Parish Council initially failed to disclose relevant information, namely that contained within Parish Council emails, that we knew to be in existence prior to making this request.

Given that Willington Parish Council probably receives very few information requests, it is likely to be unfamiliar with its obligations under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. In particular, the Parish Council might be of the mistaken belief that information contained within emails is confidential and therefore exempt for disclosure.

An alternative explanation, which would be very serious if true, is that Willington Parish Council deliberately chose to exclude relevant information from its initial response. That idea is supported by the absence of any refusal notice, which suggests that Willington Parish Council didn't even want to acknowledge the existence of such information.

In the end, after some gentle words of advice and encouragement, Willington Parish Council was able to disclose further relevant information, which it claims to have missed first time around.

From the information Willington Parish Council has provided, it is clearly under the misapprehension that it can adopt local policy that undermines national legislation permitting the recording of meetings. In our opinion Willington Parish Council should be positively embracing any initiative that makes its work more accessible to the community it serves.

Willington Parish Council's "Protocol on the Recording and Filming of Council and Committee Meetings" is unlawful, unenforceable and portrays the Parish Council as one that prefers its business kept hidden from legitimate public scrutiny.

The Parish Council is not in a position to demand people exercising their rights under the new legislation make prior arrangements to do so. Similarly, the Parish Council is not in a position to dictate which parts of any public meeting can be recorded.

We shall be monitoring Willington Parish Council closely, in the hope it will fulfill its statutory obligations more effectively in future.

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