Publicly public petition plight

PUBLISHED: 11:04 08 April 2010 | UPDATED: 15:02 06 May 2010

SIR – Q: When is a petition presented to a local council deemed not to be in the public domain? A: When it is commissioned and signed by volunteers working for said council and contains potentially defamatory insinuations against other local residents. Ha

SIR - Q: When is a petition presented to a local council deemed not to be in the public domain?

A: When it is commissioned and signed by volunteers working for said council and contains potentially defamatory insinuations against other local residents.

Harpenden Town Council has refused public access to a petition presented to its Environment Committee, open to members of the public, on February 10, 2010.

Minutes of the meeting record the wording and state: "Members were pleased to receive the petition and note its contents."

A request to check the wording of the petition against the wording of the minutes and verify the signatures has been refused, quoting potential breach of the Data Protection Act.

A further request has also been refused after advice was taken from the district council's head of legal services.

Both public bodies have, in my opinion, misdirected themselves over the fundamental principles and purpose of the Act.

A petition presented to a local council for discussion in open session of a council meeting is de facto a public document.

If those who signed had wanted to conceal their identities they could have written anonymous letters or lobbied their councillors in the usual way.

After a short absence the culture of secrecy appears to have returned to Harpenden Town Council, to the extent that the "vociferous few objectors" must be wondering if the petition was actually orchestrated by one or more of the councillors in the first place.

ROBERT HILL

East Common, Harpenden

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