Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Council abandon unlawful 'filming' undertaking

After nearly eight months of forcing members of the public, including children, to sign an unlawful undertaking, introduced as an 'operational decision' by officers, it looks like they've finally realised their mistake. It was, as if you need reminding, to agree to abide by a non-existent council policy against filming/recording meetings before being allowed into the public gallery. I was also forced to sign one before I was released from police custody last June - there was nothing 'legal' about it nor was it a matter for the police.
All we need now is for a public apology to all who were forced to sign, the doors to be opened and the guarded 'escort' to the public gallery to be ditched - we'll see whether that happens at next week's full council meeting.

A recent Freedom of Information request was made by a member of the public (not me), the day after the last full council meeting. You will note their use of the word 'goodwill', unfortunately we cannot rely on the goodwill of the Council to be open, fair and democratic, so I'll leave that one up to you.
Anyway, here's the response (my emphasis);

Dear *****,

I refer to your request for information, which was received on 12 January, 2012 and has been dealt with under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.
You asked the following questions in relation to the public signing an undertaking before being allowed into some or all council meetings:

 1. a copy of the current version(s), and which meetings it (or they) are used at

 2. an indication of the established and dated procedure for, and logging of, storage and/or secure disposal, under Data Protection Act requirements, of these undertakings after events

 3. regarding these undertakings, your internal email and/or memo records that reasonably fully describe the perceived necessity for them, legal basis for them, drafts produced, previous versions used (with their dates of use), and all procedures for their administrative roll-out.

The Council has in fact discontinued the protocol of asking members of the public to sign an undertaking not to film or record meetings of the Council or its committees.

However, the Council has yet to decide on whether to permit filming and has established a task and finish Group of members of the Policy & Resources Scrutiny Committee to consider the issue of filming/audio recording as well as webcasting of meetings. In the meantime, the Council relies on the public's goodwill to comply with the request not to film or record the proceedings of meetings.

Copies of the signed undertakings that were previously asked for prior to attendance at meetings have been destroyed securely.

In view of the above, please confirm whether you still require a response to questions 1 and 3.

Yours sincerely
FoI Officer, Carmarthenshire County Council

Update 11am;

County Councillor Sian Caiach has issued this statement below to the local paper, let's hope the rest of the council agree with her sentiments;

"As you may have read today in Jacqui's blog Carmarthenshire Council have abandoned their policy of asking people to sign an undertaking not to film meetings before being allowed to watch their meetings. This happened after a FOIA request challenging the legality of these actions. There is no policy on filming, as they admit. A group is looking into it but no decision either way has ever been taken.

This means that Mark James called the police to arrest Jacqui Thompson without any reason whatsoever.  At the last full council meeting I tried to present an apology to Jacqui Thompson on behalf of the council but was prevented from doing so by the Chair, This admission that the council has no policy on filming confirms that this apology was quite appropriate and I will present it once more at the next meeting.

This lady was arrested, kept in the cells for several hours and signed a declaration not to ever film again before being allowed to leave. She has had the humilation of being led away in handcuffs and since then our council have persisted in pretending that there was some legal reason why filming could not be permitted, giving the impression that other members of the public would be treated in a similar way.

This has been a shameful episode for Carmarthenshire County Council and I am glad it is over. We have absolutely nothing to hide and surely our electorate have the right to freely access our meetings and record them if they so wish. We already could produce an audio record of proceedings from our existing sound system if we wish to have a record of what is said for ourselves, it would be nice to have a video system which we could stream online. In the meantime please come and watch us. you will no longer have to queue up and sign a form and if you do decide to film, no-one will call the police to take you away".

Cllr Sian Caiach

I hope people will join me in the public gallery on the 8th February, and if you wish, bring your mobile phone. Caebrwyn.

12 comments:

Nospin said...

About time , and well done to you for exposing it and to the very small number of councillors who supported you.

Next we must hope to see the fudge of needing 7 councillors support a no confidence.

Cneifiwr said...

It would be great to think that it was the FOI request which finally blew this thing apart, but since quite a few people have been down this or similar routes in the past and been told that everything was fine and above board, I suspect that there was another reason. Two things spring to mind:

1) Someone with clout took the council to one side and told them to get real and/or pointed out that the whole thing was illegal.

2) In the run-up to the elections, they did not want any unfortunate newspaper headlines (e.g. "Schoolboy forced to sign legal undertaking", etc.)

I somehow think (2) is more likely.

Alice in Blunderland said...

I am pleased to hear of the removal of the undertaking system. Also it is good to see some Councillors supporting the public.Something we happen to lack here sadly.I hope that much thought will be given to the streaming of Council Meetings in the interests of openness in the not too distant future.I also hope that some outstanding issues are also resolved in the wider interests of the taxpayers.
Hopefully the whole sorry episode can then be left in the past.Well done for your endeavours in this and I hope the petitions prove successful.We shall wait and see.

CARMSCCPRESS said...

There seems to be some misunderstanding as to the current situation.

The council has not changed it's policy regarding filming of meetings and along with most if not all local authorities in Wales, we still do not allow filming of council meetings. Anyone doing so will be asked to stop or to leave the meeting.

We recently introduced the requirement to sign an undertaking to abide by these rules because several meetings had been disrupted. As there have been no re-occurrences of such disruption for several months we had decided to discontinue the requirement to give an undertaking before entering the meeting. However, in view of your statement 'I hope people will join me in the public gallery on the 8th February, and if you wish, bring your mobile phone' this decision will now have to be reconsidered.

This council is not out of step with other national and local government bodies in the policy we currently have in place and we are due to report shortly on the feasibility of live video streaming of meetings. In the meantime there has been no change in the policy and filming is still not allowed. Provided people agree to abide by this rule we welcome as many visitors as possible to our meetings.
CARMSCCPRESS

Nospin said...

If as many say the banning of filming or recording is illegal, I cannot understand why

a) the minister had not clarified the position

b) has not then imposed a correct solution

WAG was not reluctant to interfere in Anglesey.

towy71 said...

Carmccpress seems to be under the impression that the quote from Councillor Sian Caiach is some sort of threat but that is not speaking for me.
I, and the other council watchers, or under no illusion that you don't like the idea of filming but don't shoot the messenger.

Martin Milan said...

CARMSCCPRESS,

First of all, I applaud your decision to actually engage with the public. If I may, something of a refreshing change for this particular authority.

"In the meantime there has been no change in the policy and filming is still not allowed."

Oh really? Fine. Please, declare here and now, EXACTLY which policy you are referring to, when it was enacted, and from whom I might obtain a copy of the relevant minutes. Otherwise, well, this just comes across as an officious authority trying to prevent the public from holding it to account.

These are public meetings we are talking about. The public, even those of them with cameras, have a RIGHT to be there. You are THEIR servants. If such persons are not being disruptive, and no, quietly filming is not considered disruptive, then you should bloody well leave them be. We are talking about people are ARE politically engaged, and who care enough about the area to actually attend in person for heaven's sake!

Oh - and another thing - why are we only now talking about streaming meetings? That's not good enough. Meetings should be recorded, and then made archived on the web so that concerned members of the public can both view them and also use them as an evidential source when holding the authority to account. The truly shocking aspect of this is that we can't rely on the minutes any more.

Please, give Jacqui the long overdue apology we all know she deserves, and let's move on with cleaning out the sty.

caebrwyn said...

@towy71 I hope I have now clarified that it was me who wrote the last sentence 'if you wish, bring your mobile' on this blogpost, not Cllr Caiach.

towy71 said...

"@towy71 I hope I have now clarified that it was me who wrote the last sentence 'if you wish, bring your mobile' on this blogpost, not Cllr Caiach."
Sorry I am prone to foot in mouth ;-)

Anonymous said...

CarmsCCpress says that several meetings had been disrupted. If this is so there must have followed several arrests. I'd like to know how many meetings had been disrupted, by whom, and were all the disruptors arrested?
As far as we are all aware there was only one daft arrest. Perhaps the press office could clarify.

caebrwyn said...

The media section of the council website now has a press release - www.carmarthenshire.gov.uk/English/news/Pages/Filmingofcouncilmeetings.aspx - the very latest excuse given for dropping the undertaking is 'to reduce the burden of administration' - but you will now have to give your address as well as your name, according to the piece.

webswonder said...

Well done. The CC s so full of BS. Thank goodness at least a few people take them on. They tumble like a deck of cards when seriously challenged.