Just back from a day in Court 2 at the Royal Courts of Justice listening to our QC's submissions in the application for judicial review against Brent Council in relation to its decision in April to close the 6 libraries.
A large group of Save our Six supporters rallied by the Strand entrance to the Court from 9am onwards, with banners and the eye-catching red t-shirts.
Once inside there was a slightly surreal moment as there was a previous application about whether a woman had been illegally detained under immigration legislation once a medical examination had revealed scars on her inner thighs which were diagnostic of her having been tortured (in the country from which she'd fled). One hard-of-hearing library supporter, after listening for about 20 minutes, asked "Is this the application against Brent council?"
Meanwhile the public gallery was being dusted down (literally) and given a quick squirt of furniture polish to make space for the 60 or so SOS supporters who couldn't all fit in to the main part of the court.
And then we were off! Our QC, Helen Mountfield, explained that this is the first judicial review claim to examine the relationship between a local authority decision to close a significant number of libraries and the applicable statutory and common law duties (permission has been granted for a similar claim in relation to library closures in Gloucestershire).
Ms Mountfield asserted that Brent council adopted a fundamentally flawed and unlawful approach to the objective of making savings in its budget, particularly because it started from the false premiss that library closures were an inevitability (thereby closing its mind to reasonable alternatives). Brent only considered alternative options on the basis that they would involve no ongoing cost, and for this reason they were all ruled out.
She explained that there was a degree of urgency because Brent were determined to press on quickly with the closures but that a stay had been agreed (either to the end of July or possibly to 12th August - this was unclear).
In deciding how to fulfill its duties under section 7 of the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 Brent had fixed on one means without first properly identifying the range of needs which it had to meet and without any proper open minded consideration of the full range of means which it had at its disposal (eg making an arrangement with a third party partner - like a community group) to perform that duty. Brent had committed both errors of approach and errors of analysis.
The error of approach was that Brent council officers misdirected members as to the terms of the 1964 Act or the council unlawfully closed its mind to any other way of providing a library service than providing it itself.
The error of analysis was that Brent reached an irrational and unlawful decision because consideration was not given to several mandatory considerations (both general public law duties and specific duties under the legislation). Brent failed to form a rational an informed view about who needed a library service and what were their needs (including failure to assess the needs of children and failure to have due regard to equality legislation).
Ms Mountfield also submitted that the consultation was inadequate (which was the first point which occurred to most of us, back in the winter when this sad saga first began). The consultation didn't ask the right questions.
The Judge asked a few questions, including querying whether a library service could be provided over the internet ("at first blush one tends to think of libraries as buildings")
I could go on - I've got plenty more notes, but maybe that's enough for now. Read Tim Lott talking about the legal challenge in today's Evening Standard
And finally, when we popped into the pub for some quick lunctime sustenance there was a cat wearing a legal collar. Sorry the photo's such poor quality, but 8 out of 10 cats hate flash, so I didn't use it!
and really finally don't forget the Philip Pullman event tomorrow - Wednesday 20th July when he's in conversation with novelist (and SOS supporter) Maggie Gee, 7pm at Queen's Park Community School. Tickets £10 on the door or in advance from Queen's Park Books, the Lexi and L'Angolo on College Road. And whether you can come to the event or not, go to Philip's website and download the "Oxfordshire Libraries" pdf and read every word of it - it's excellent. The final words are