Transitioning to the new Act - are special meetings in limbo?
A number of provisions contained in the Local Government Act 2020 are now in force. They are the first of nearly 400 provisions which will progressively come into operation over the course of the next couple of years.
With the progressive introduction of provisions in the 2020 Act will come the progressive repeal of provisions contained in the Local Government Act 1989. So, when the next tranche of provisions in the 2020 Act commences on 1 May a slew of provisions in the 1989 Act will disappear.
One of the provisions in the 1989 Act to disappear on 1 May will be section 84 – a provision setting out how a Special Meeting of a council is to be called. Its disappearance may not be of consequence for those councils with Meeting Procedure Local Laws that repeat the language of section 84 (and therefore provide for a Special Meeting to be called by the Mayor or any three Councillors).
But for those councils which do not have Meeting Procedure Local Laws replicating section 84 – and, after all, the Ombudsman has previously advised councils not to include in local laws provisions already to be found in an Act – something of a problem seems to arise. A gap will exist. Nothing will govern who can convene a meeting between Ordinary Meetings previously fixed by resolution.
It may be that, depending on the breadth of the relevant delegation, the Chief Executive Officer can call a meeting between Ordinary Meetings. The Chief Executive Officer might, however, be put in an invidious position if only one or two Councillors want a meeting called. A condition or limitation in the Instrument of Delegation might need to be inserted, so that what we currently know as a Special Meeting need only be called if the Mayor or three Councillors give written notice of a request that a meeting be called.
Alternatively, a council may need to consider introducing some interim Governance Rules addressing when to call, and who can call, what are currently known as Special Meetings. Of course, even interim Governance Rules cannot be introduced without some community engagement process first being undertaken.
Councils would do well to review their Meeting Procedure Local Laws to see whether the imminent repeal of section 84 of the 1989 Act will expose them to a problem. If, indeed, a ‘gap’ looks like emerging, the issue becomes what steps a council wishes to take to plug the gap until permanent Governance Rules are in place.
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