Hackney Today FAQs and legal challenge
Since 2002, Hackney Council has produced Hackney Today as a fortnightly newspaper. It publishes information about Council services, decisions, events and opportunities, provides space for voluntary and community groups to promote their services and events, and promotes the work of our local NHS, schools and other partners and public bodies. The Council also uses Hackney Today to publish statutory notices, such as traffic measures and licensing and planning applications. By law, councils have to place these in a newspaper which is published more frequently than once a month.
In 2011, the Government brought in the Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity which recommended councils publish newsletters/newspapers no more than four times a year. Hackney Council took note of this guidance, reviewed its practice and concluded that a fortnightly newspaper was the most cost-effective way of getting information out to residents and reached the most people. As such, it continued to publish Hackney Today fortnightly. The District Auditor supported the Council’s decision, details of which are available in the June 2011 Cabinet report.
In 2014, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government introduced legislation that gave him new powers to direct local authorities to comply with the Code, or face prosecution. Since then, various Secretaries of State have issued Hackney Council with a notice of their intention to issue such a direction, concerning the frequency of Hackney Today, on four separate occasions. Each time, the Council has provided detailed representations giving the reasons that it continues to publish Hackney Today on a fortnightly basis. No directions were subsequently issued. However, on 11 April, 2018, a direction to stop the fortnightly publication of Hackney Today was issued.
On 18 June 2018, the Council’s Cabinet resolved to challenge the direction. The full recommendations and rationale behind the decision is are available in the Cabinet report.
Frequency was the only criteria by which Hackney Today was judged to be in breach of the Code. The Government has never found Hackney Today to contravene the Code’s guidelines around being ‘objective’, ‘even-handed’ or ‘appropriate’.
The case was heard as a judicial review in the High Court in May this year. It was brought jointly by Hackney Council and Waltham Forest Council, which also had a fortnightly publication. The judge published her verdict in June, ruling in favour of the Government.
The Council, jointly with Waltham Forest, requested a right to appeal from the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal issued its ruling on August 5, rejecting the request. There are no more legal routes open to the Council, so Hackney Today will no longer be published fortnightly.
The Council is now considering how best it can continue to keep the borough’s diverse communities informed of services and opportunities available to them in a cost effective way which complies with the Government’s legal direction.
Philip Glanville, Mayor of Hackney, has published an article explaining why the Council took legal action to keep publishing .