Legal: Current UK Situation

 Current

Lincolnshire 

Legal action began 31st January 2014 against the council’s decision to cut funding to libraries on the grounds of:

  • First, that the consultation that preceded the decision was unlawful in that decisions had already been taken before the consultation began.
  • The second reason is that the Council failed to take due regard of its obligations under the Public Sector Equality Duty as required by the Equality Act 2010. The Council had already identified that disabled people, older people, young people and women (particularly mothers of young children), were going to be hit by their plans but failed to ensure that the harm this was going to cause was prevented.
  • In addition, it is claimed the Council failed to properly consider the proposal by Greenwich Leisure, a charitable social enterprise, to take over the whole Library Service whilst largely maintaining the library network.
  • The fourth ground is that, if the cuts go ahead, the County Council Library Service will no longer be a comprehensive and efficient library service, as required by the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964.

The High Court agreed on 14th March that the judicial review could be heard on all four grounds,

Moray – Cuts appeared to have been decided upon against legal advice received (September 2013) that it would be in breach of the Equalities Act.  Council argues that funding cuts gave it no option.

“The “Save our Libraries Moray”, formed last week to contest the closure decision, today announced that they have already taken legal advice about seeking a judicial review in the Court of Session to challenge Moray Council’s independent and Conservative administration’s decision to close all seven libraries at Rothes, Dufftown, Portknockie, Findochty, Cullen, Burghead, Hopeman plus one of the council’s two mobile units.” (Scotsman) .

Eventually, the Council (November 2013) decided to withdraw from closing three of these branches due to the need to be compliant with equalities legislation.  They did however still signal that they wanted to close the other four.

Past

Gloucestershire and Somerset

Campaigners in Gloucestershire won the right for a judicial review in September (27th – 29th) 2011.  The same court hearing that allowed the review also instructed the council not to close or divest libraries until that hearing (the first time this has ever happened). Somerset campaigners also had an interim injunction successfully served on the Council to prevent closures until the court hearing.  These two hearings were combined and lasted for three days.  The results were announced on Wednesday 16th November.  The campaigners won the argument on grounds of the council giving insufficient regard to equalities legislation:

“130.
The real question on this aspect of the case, it seems to me, is whether there was a conscious directing of the mind by the decision makers to their obligations under the legislation and in particular to the need to exercise the duty to have due regard in substance and with rigour and based on sufficient information, appropriately analysed.
131.
In my judgment, on the preponderance of the evidence, no such due regard was had in substance. In order to discharge their respective duties, GCC and SCC should have undertaken a sufficiently thorough information gathering exercise and then properly analysed that information. In this case I conclude that both GCC and SCC failed to comply with that obligation, accepting as I do the substance of the Claimants’ criticisms made of their respective information gathering and analysis to which I have referred above.”

This decision, covered extensively on the day, meant that both counties had to reconsider plans to close, between them, 21 libraries. The action cost Somerset Council £70,000 in legal costs and Gloucestershire £95,000.It seems that both councils have at least taken on board from their court defeat that, if they wish to close libraries, they need to do it with full regard to the law.  Whether this is possible or the councils are failing to understand the difficulties of closing so many branches of a statutorily protected service remains to be seen.  Both councils are now working with the Equalities and Human Rights Commission.Gloucestershire have announced new plans that, while keeping some previously threatened libraries open, threatens seven branches and five mobiles (16/1/12).
Brent

Brent faced legal action as the final council decision to close libraries was made before the consultation ended. In addition, the campaigners’ solicitors (Bindmans) argue that, being nurseries and schools are “are dependent on local libraries to ensure children have access to books”, they should have been consulted as well. They also argue that the council had been deliberately obstructive to keeping libraries open via non-traditional methods such as running jointly with local community groups. This is more fully described in the solicitors’ press release.  In full legalese, the challenge is:

“(i) the Council misdirected itself in law as to the means by which it could fulfil its statutory duty under section 7 of the 1964 Museums and Libraries Act by closing its mind to the possibility that some libraries could be retained, partly provided or funded by other sources;

(ii) (ii) the decision to close 50% of the existing libraries breached the Council’s duty under section 7 of the 1964 Act, because it failed: (a) to start by assessing the need for library services in its area rationally; and (b) to identify and take into account the welfare consequences for children in need in the borough;

(iii) the Council failed to comply with the continuing obligation imposed by section 149 Equality Act 2010 to have ‘due regard’ to the needs to eliminate discrimination, advance equality of opportunity and foster good relations between different groups in the community; and

(iv) the Council failed to undertake adequate consultation, and acted unfairly by: (a) failing to provide sufficient information to consultees who wished to advance solutions to keeping libraries open involving community groups, so as to enable them to make detailed proposals and (b) failing to provide sufficient information to enable consultees to make specific submissions as to which libraries should be retained if the Council ultimately decided that some closures were necessary.”

The resulting court hearing has been described here:

Brent – Libraries latest: day 3 in Court 2I spy in Queen’s Park.  “The Brent Six are Innocent” was best slogan.  “Seven secret criteria” had been used to assess business plans for alternatives.  Magistrate appeared “not to be in sympathy” with equalities impact legislation argument.  “The Judge indicated that it was very unlikely that he would be able to give his full judgment until October”.  Also Brent library campaigners hopeful over closures ruling - BBC “We’ve done all we can. We’re hopeful.”.  Please also see Concerns over Brent campaigners volunteer librariesVoices for the Library.  The Brent legal challenge appears, at least partly, to be advocating the taking over of libraries by volunteers which seems to go against statements by Philip Pullman and Alan Bennett.  ” The outcome of this judicial review could have serious implications for other campaigners who are not campaigning for volunteer run libraries, including those whose judicial reviews (such as Gloucestershire and Somerset) are due to be heard.”.  Very important to read the comments section too.

The challenge failed on Thursday 13/10/11.  The judge found nothing illegal in the consultation or other processes carried out by the council and seem to suggest only the Secretary of State (currently Jeremy Hunt) has the power to decide what is “comprehensive and efficient” under the terms of the 1964 Act.  Campaigners in Brent appealed the decision in court on 10th and 11th November but this was denied in February.  The campaigners have now issued a “letter before claim” against the DCMS for failing to act (7.2.12).

“The “bill for defending the closures increased from £70,500 in September to £150,000. Another £258,000 has been spent on sacking staff and redundancy payments.” London Evening Standard, 13.12.11

“Brent Council has failed to make £400,000 of savings because of delays in closing half of its libraries which will result in cuts to other services. The Environment and Neighbourhood Services department still needs to make £250,000 in savings before the end of the financial year. This, plus £170,000 the council spent of defending its decision to axe six of its 12 libraries, means it has had to find alternative cuts in other areas to balance its budget.” London 24, 20/1/12.

Read the letter from DCMS legal advisers about library closures (14/2/12) This explains the reasoning against intervention by the Government.


Surrey

(4.1.12) Surrey Libraries Action movement (SLAMstarted legal proceedings against the council over plans to staff ten branches with volunteers.  The lack of consultation was a key factor, with Public Interest Lawyers acting on the campaigner’s behalf and formally noticing the Council of the intention of court action unless the cuts were reversed.  Two weeks later (20.1.12), without any changes of heart by the council, a Legal injunction was granted to stop council closing branches or giving them to volunteers until court case is heard.  Despite council protests that (a) the injunction was too late as the cuts were first announced a year ago and (b) that there was sufficient consultation as SLAM had protested so much about its lack, two weeks later (5.2.12) it was confirmed that High Court judicial review would start on 20th February.  The permission to continue to review is in highly legal language but is available here. Judical review delayed until 19th or 20th March (20/2/12) due to “availability of counsel”.

The court sided with the campaigners that the council plans were unlawful.  The position of SLAM on what the judicial review meant can be read on this link. After a couple of weeks, the council accepted that it needed to change its plans and agreed to pay the costs of the campaigners.  However, the Council plans were only minimally altered, aiming to continue with replacing paid staff with volunteers but, this time, providing a “comprehensive training package” for them.

(16/8/12) The plans for ten volunteer-run libraries were called in for scrutiny by opposition councillors but a majority of the Council supported them.  It is planned that the branches will be volunteer run in 2013.

Doncaster

The Save Doncaster Libraries Campaign (Feb 2012) announced that legal action is being considered on 10th February.  It was confirmed on 23rd Feb that legal action against the council will be taking place.

On the 23rd June, it was announced that an application for a judicial review against the Mayor’s decision to close libraries would be heard on 24th July.  The main argument appears to be that the Mayor ignored a vote by more than two-thirds of Doncaster councillors against his plan for libraries.

The judge, reported on 1st August, decided that the Mayor and the Council had acted legally and so the library cuts will continue.  On 8th October 2013, the complainant in the case lost the library funding appeal, although the judge agreed that the cuts raised questions about the division of power betwwen the mayor and the council.

Others

Campaigners in Bolton are examining the closure decisions to see if there is a legal basis for a challenge, as are those in Oxfordshire. The Dorset campaigning group, AdLib, have said that they also are considering action. Campaigners in Camden have announced (16/10/11)  that they will apply for a judicial review there over the decision to force three libraries to be volunteer-run after an allegedly biased consultation.

Legal prepartions were under way in Suffolk (May 2011) but the council has now performed a u-turn.  In addition, a judical review had been called about the Culture Secretary’s failure to comply with his legal duties at a national level but this has been dropped due to DCMS assurances.   An application for judicial review of closures in the Isle of Wight has been rejected.  A challenge in Lewisham failed due to inability to raise the legal funds needed. Preparation for legal challenges, including deciding on whether to go ahead with one at all, were being prepared in Cambridgeshire and Wigan in the first half of 2011 but no further action was taken.

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