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Local Government (Accounts & Audit) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2015
Journalists do not enjoy the same rights to access local government accounts and supporting documnents in Northern Ireland in comparison with their counterparts in England and Wales.
Regulation 12 gives local
taxpayers and electors the right to access and copy the financial documents and records for 20 working days each year.
A journalist wishing to inspect and copy the accounts must either be a registered elector in the area, pay local tax to the authority concerned, or act as a repreentative of an elector or ratepayer.
There is no provision for a journalist outside the area to exercise a right of inspection on his/her on behalf, or on behalf of an employer who does not vote or pay tax in the area.
The equivalent regulations on the mainland enable journalists and citizen bloggers to inspect and copy accounts regardless of whether or not they live in the locaility of the authority in question.
In this respect, the Northern Ireland regulations are in line with the Scottish provisions.
Taxpayers and voters in the Province have a legal
right to question auditors and lodge formal objections to the accounts. There is no provision for a journalist to lodge an objection to the accounts if he/she is acting as a representative of an elector or taxpayer.
If a journalist living in the locality decides to lodge an objection to the accounts, then he/she does so in her own right, not in any capacity as an employee of a media company.
councils in Northern Ireland must advertise
the dates online, at least 14 calendar days before the inspection period.
The dates of the public inspection periods are a matter for the auditor but regulation 8 requires a council's chief finance officer to prepare the accounts for audit on or before 30 June. This means that the inspection period is likely to be in late June or July.
For further guidance, contact
The Veolia and Nottinghamshire County Council court