Did someone say…… ‘council meetings’!

22 May 2020

The State Coordinator has now confirmed that council (and council committee and subsidiary) meetings can be held in person.

For some weeks now, we have held the view that council meetings (indeed, council committee meetings as well) could be held ‘in person’ rather than by electronic means, without breaching the Gathering Directions. This has been based upon –

  • council offices (including the Chamber) not being within the list of ‘defined premises’ that were required to close;
  • that list of ‘defined premises’ including only non-essential council facilities; and
  • a gathering of more than 10 persons at an office building was permissible where it was necessary to utilise it for the normal business of those premises.

Whilst there was always room for discussion around this approach, it was recognised that there were a number of ‘loopholes’ in the Directions and our position was available, as required, but always, subject to satisfying the density requirement and the social distancing principles. This is, of course, different to some of the inaccurate and inconsistent information that has been circulating about this issue. Whilst our position did support an ability for the elected body, together with key staff, to meet in person (and, indeed, some councils did) it also recognised that public attendances at council meetings required altogether different considerations.

The position has now been put beyond doubt by the latest Direction, issued today – the Emergency Management (Gatherings No 3) (COVID-19) Direction 2020 which, amongst other things, provides that a prohibited gathering does not include a gathering

of members or office bearers of a council, council committee or subsidiary of a council (all within the meaning of the Local Government Act 1999) and other persons working or otherwise engaged in official duties, at an ordinary or special meeting of the council, council committee or subsidiary.

However, a ‘Note’ to this exemption provides that the public attending such a meeting are still subject to the limitations, being that no more than 10 members of the public can be present and that the density requirements must still be satisfied.

In short, consistent with our advices, the current legal position is that council (and council committee, subsidiary) meetings can be held in person but subject to the above conditions regarding public attendance.

Let us know if you require any further assistance about COVID-related or other legal issues.

If you have any questions in relation to this Alert, please contact: