Your Privacy in Their Hands: Exclusion of the Public from Local Authority Regulatory Committee Meetings

Noble, Andrew (2014) Your Privacy in Their Hands: Exclusion of the Public from Local Authority Regulatory Committee Meetings. Contemporary Issues in Law, 13 (2). pp. 93-112. ISSN 1357-0374

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Local authorities in England and Wales perform their various functions under a general ethos of openness and transparency. However, there are certain situations where information available to local authorities ought not to be disclosed to the general public. One such situation is where local authorities are required to determine applications for the grant of licences to engage in specific occupations. This role also carries with it the power to discipline licence holders, including removal of the licence, for breaches of the general law or any conditions attached to such a licence. The authority to grant licences and discipline licence holders is normally delegated to a regulatory committee of the council. Proceedings before regulatory committees routinely take the form of quasi-judicial hearings. Because of the nature of the proceedings, committee hearings are likely to involve dealing with information of a highly personal character, which is potentially sensitive, embarrassing or damaging for the individual applicant or licence-holder. Local authorities have a statutory discretion to exclude the public from committee meetings where it is likely that ‘exempt information’ would be disclosed. The records of regulatory committee meetings reveal that liberal use is made of this discretion at hearings concerning the grant or removal of licences. The decision to exclude the public is often based on the council’s own notions of what constitutes ‘exempt information’ and when the public interest in non-disclosure outweighs that in disclosure. Because of the way in which the discretion to exclude is exercised, it largely fails to deliver either privacy for the individual or transparent decision-making for the authority. In this paper, the use and value of the local authority’s discretion is assessed, together with some suggestions for a more consistent approach to address the current tension between privacy and openness.

Item Type: Journal Article
Keywords: Privacy, Local Authorities, Regulation
Faculty: ARCHIVED Lord Ashcroft International Business School (until September 2018)
Depositing User: Andrew Noble
Date Deposited: 27 Jun 2018 15:00
Last Modified: 09 Sep 2021 19:02

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