Monday, 19 December 2011

Libraries Latest - Court of Appeal decision 19th December 2011. The fight goes on

No early Xmas present for Brent Library Campaigners as the Court of Appeal today dismissed our appeal - but don't go - the fight continues as we voted to take our solicitors' advice to seek leave to appeal to the Supreme Court (the highest court in the land).

A quick look at the written judgment doesn't reveal any in depth legal analysis of the sort one might expect from the Court of Appeal - very disappointing after all the efforts of Dinah Rose QC and the rest of our Legal Team.

Lord Justice Pill (we'll keep the bitter pill jokes for later) gave the main judgment. He agreed with Dinah Rose that, to establish indirect discrimination it was sufficient to show an adverse impact of the proposal on the Asian Community as compared with non-Asian communities. Given the scale of the spending reductions the council was required to make and the information available following earlier studies, a decision tht the library service should bear a share of the reduction was not, in his judgment, unlawful. There was no reason to doubt that the council was aware of its statutory duties, including those in relation to race discrimination.
He said it was "fanciful to suggest, taking the best view we can of the appellants' evidence, that it was so obvious that library provision, as distinct from other services, had discriminatory effects upon the Asian community that it needed to be a significant factor in funding decisions as the the apportionment of resources."
He found that "the decision as to which librares to close was carefully considered by the council... a full consultation was conducted and fully reported to the decision makers." and "I do not consider that the council was in breach of duty in failing to give further consideration to the racial dimension, in so far as it affected the Asian community in relation to other communities."

As to the second ground of appeal, Lord Justice Pill was satisfied that "the council exercised its functions in this case with due regard to the requirements under s149 [of the Equality Act 2010]. To put forward a reasoned proposal for closures was a reasonable reaction in the circumstances, including the urgent need to economise. It was not necessary for an Equalities Impact Assessment to be conducted before the forumlation of the proposals on which the public were to be consulted."

As to the third ground he found that the duty under s7 of the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 "was also in mind and the council was aware of the duty specified. Decisions as to closures were taken with that duty in mind, the proposals included improved ways in which the expectations of users might be met. Mitigation measures were proposed in this regard".

So, in other words, the Court of Appeal agreed with the judgment of Mr Justice Ouseley.

But it's not the end of the road! Even though the Court of Appeal refused leave to appeal (which was predictable, and what usually happens).

Our solicitor, John Halford, from Bindmans, explained his view that the case does raise issues of public importance and that we should petition the Supreme Court for leave to appeal because
1. It's the first case ever decided about large scale library closures in the UK
2. The judgment addressed a number of points about he way to make cuts in public services, and was incorrect in what the law requires in relation to the closure of public services because of the risk of indirect discrimination to the Asian community. The court said that Brent could be excused because no one brought it to their attention until the legal case started and that anyway it was not significant enough to justify quashing the decision and making Brent start again.
3. It's important not only becase of what happened in Brent but because very similar decisions are being taken up and down the country in relation to other libraries and public services. If this court is correct then a number of legal protections which parliament put in place won't be as strong as they need to be.

Read John Halford's Press Statement on Bindmans website

With the benefit of that advice, and the amazing offer by John Halford on behalf of himself and the barristers, to continue on our behalf despite uncertainty about whether or not Legal Aid will be granted, it was unanimously agreed to continue with the fight and to take the next step which is to ask the Supreme Court for leave to appeal to it.

In the meantime, John Halford has asked Brent not to further dismantle the libraries. If they don't agree it will be necessary to apply for an injunction restraining them from doing so. The injunction which was in place was discharged today.

John urged us to press on showing the same spirit, and the mood outside court today was for doing just that. There was a vote of thanks to John and the rest of the legal team for their fantastic work on our behalf so far, and their preparedness to help us go to the next stage.

Read the view from Preston Road campaigners

From Kensal Rise campaigners

Twitter has been a-tweet all afternoon, the Kilburn Times has an excellent piece by Tara Brady

The Guardian

BBC News with a particularly apt photo of Alan Bennett looking glum

And Brent? Well, you heard about the unbelievably crass presentation of Team of the Year award to the team who have worked tirelessly to dismantle the library service? Sorry, I mean the "Libraries Transformation Team".

I think we need to end with an uplifting song - optional of course. How about Johnny Cash's Walk the Line?. Not entirely inappropriate.

You'll have realised that the Save Our Six Campaign still needs to raise funds to carry on to the next stage, so please continue to support the fundraising events and just donate here

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