Yes, you can record Council meetings
JOURNALISTS were reminded recently that they have the right to record local authority meetings and don't need to give notice in advance that they are doing so. In October, Hackney Council apologised to an unnamed reporter from the Hackney Citizen after Councillor Sophie Conway, chairing a meeting of the Borough's Children and Young People Scrutiny Commission, wrongly told the journalist to switch off their recorder and delete their recording of the meeting. The journalist refused.
Hackney Council's assertion that the journalist needed to give prior notice that they were recording the meeting was also erroneous. Under the rather confusing Openness of Local Government Bodies Regulations 2014, everybody has the right to record Council meetings and decisions. Many Councils have "protocols" about recording their meetings that still need to be updated to take account of the latest regulations.
Councils still have the power to police recordings of sub-committee of meetings that are regularly attended by "vulnerable" people - as would a Children and Young People Scrutiny Commission - but only to ensure that journalists record the proceedings of the meeting itself and don't film or record vulnerable people in the public gallery or any of their contributions. Councils also have the power to "mediate" between those recording meetings and vulnerable people who don't want to be recorded. This may be where the Hackney confusion arose.
Guidance from the Department for Communities and Local Government says it's still "advisable" for you to give notice that you are recording, if only to ensure you get the facilities to do so. The 2014 regulations cover district, borough, unitary and county councils in England only. There are different rules for parish and town Councils and for joint committees formed by more than one authority; we are unsure whether they cover the City of London.
The Local Government Act 1972 still applies, and obliges local authorities to hold meetings in "private" - with no public or press allowed - if they cover "confidential" matter. The statutory list of these includes enforcement action, trades union negotiations and things under commercial confidentiality or legal privilege.
But the decision to hold these meetings "in private" must be taken in public, with plenty of formal notice given of a meeting "in private" to give the public the opportunity to object. Reasons must be given for meetings beng held "in private" - if you're barred from recording a Council meeting, get an explanation in writing. NUJ members see www.londonfreelance.org/emergency for a helpline to contact if you are prevented from recording a local authority meeting.