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Posts Tagged ‘Judicial Review’

It now looks very much like the Judgment from the Judicial Review is going to be handed down next week. The result may be clear; it may be nuanced.  Whatever the result, the detail and justification of the Review is likely to be as important and instructive, not just for the Surrey campaign and Council but for the broader crisis in the national library service and other campaigners and Councils throughout the country.  We await the judgment with eager anticipation!

Some news about funding and fundraising. Observant visitors to this website have noticed that the target on the fundraising thermometer has come down but that the “amount raised” has remained stuck for a few days. This will now be explained. There is good and bad news…

First, the good news. The Claimants’ lawyers, Public Interest Lawyers, have raised with the Legal Services Commission the issue that this case has been very fast moving and there has therefore been limited time to fundraise. We are now working towards a figure of 12k rather than 18k.

And now the bad news. We had thought that the money we paid for the pre-action protocol letter counted towards our legal costs. Unfortunately, this is not actually the case and it does not count towards the £12,000 we now need to raise. The £8,000 shown on the right of this page includes the money paid for that letter and, therefore, must be reduced. We have kept the £8,000 stable until we had this news confirmed and will shortly be amending it downwards.

The overall impact of both these pieces of financial news is positive, though. We have had a reduction of £6,000 in the amount to be raised and the total raised has not fallen back anywhere near that amount.

Please keep giving generously. There is light at the end of the tunnel and we’re confident it’s not a train coming the other way!

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[Due to the need to get this post published a.s.a.p.  it has not gone through the usual review process. It will therefore be published in the author’s own name as a first draft, subject to change]

In order to make a profit, many (especially large) private businesses will focus on selling products or services to those in the broad centre: those with a reasonable amount of disposable income, with predictable requirements and without onerous barriers in place to provide them with the product or service. This is why, when a private company engages in provision of public services, it signs up to rigorous checks to ensure it is serving all members of the community.

The public sector ethos is quite different, containing at its core the principle, “from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs.” A progressive taxation system is in place, both nationally and locally, to ensure the first part of the principle is adhered to, as imperfect as that system is. To ensure the second part, a sense of public duty in “civil servants” is in part relied on but, recognising that this can never be enough, legislation is put in place to ensure that the needs of all members of the community (and especially the vulnerable and those with “protected characteristics”) are met.

The Equalities Act 2010 is one such Act, which puts in to law further stringent demands on local authorities to ensure all community members’ needs are met in the provision of public services. The Equalities Act 2010 should not be seen as a “technicality” on which to be tripped, but should be put front and centre in the consideration of public service provision. The Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) must be at the heart of decision making, not a peripheral concern.

The legal challenge of SCC’s decision to force volunteers to run and manage 10 libraries in Surrey is founded upon this PSED, as laid out in the Equalities Act 2010. (The implicit broader issue highlighted by this case, that of an increased use of the “third sector” in public sector provision, is recognised.)

This author would question, although not part of the legal challenge, whether it is fair to ask unsalaried volunteers to be burdened with such stringent demands as laid out in the Act, whether the volunteers are fully aware of the extent of their to-be legal obligations in this regard and, indeed, whether the duties imposed may become too arduous for well-meaning volunteers to shoulder for any extended period. Moreover, the cost of ensuring regular training for a large number of volunteers in their duties under the Act – especially given that any volunteer can walk away with no notice at any point – must be significant and must be subtracted from any hoped for savings.

The Claimant’s case in short is that, whereas SCC may have carried out an Equalities assessment of closing libraries, it did not carry out a similar assessment, or any mitigation exercise, based on setting up Community Partnered Libraries. Also, that concerns and adverse feedback about the libraries policy from Disability Empowerment Boards were not brought to the attention of decision makers. And that the answer of, “training will be given to volunteers”, is not enough to show “due regard” to the Council’s Public Sector Equalities Duty, and that the non-specified training is not enough to show that any adversed impacts on Equalities groups are mitigated.

It is the Claimant’s argument, therefore, that SCC is in breach of section 149 of the Equalities Act 2010: in breach of its Public Sector Equalities Duty.

In response, the Defendant (SCC) claims that an embedded framework of Equalities “awareness” is evidence that “due regard” is generally given. Also, that the introduction of CPLs means that the worse impact on Equalities groups of outright closure is avoided. And that “training and support” of volunteers will be enough to mitigate most adverse impacts of volunteer managed and delivered libraries.

These legal arguments should not be viewed in isolation, but in addition to the very many concerns as to the merits and wisdom of the libraries policy raised by SLAM and supporters over the course of the long campaign, not least of which is the relatively tiny amount of claimed savings of the project (just 1/10,000th of the Council’s net budget).

Due to the complexity of the case, judgement has been deferred, with the decision being handed down next week. We are hoping that the decision to force volunteers to run 10 libraries will be quashed, and that SCC will then consult with residents, library users AND volunteers – and will consequently devise a long term vision for the library service that is sustainable, inclusive, and that recognises the value of well resourced and staffed libraries to local communities (and yes, that includes the use of volunteers).

We hope…

Lee Godfrey

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The long wait for Surrey County Council’s library plans to be held up to scrutiny is coming to an end. The campaign to halt the Council’s controversial plans to force “volunteers” to take over statutory library service provision in 10 Surrey communities is over a year old.

The Council has given an ultimatum to local residents: “volunteer” to run your library or we will close it! The Council has not consulted local residents or library users over what they refer to themselves as a “radical” plan. SCC has not listened to sensible alternatives that will actually save money AND improve the service. Instead, they have ploughed on regardless with a policy that is unwanted, diminishes a service that consistently ranks the highest in satisfaction surveys of all Council provided services, and has cost more money to implement than it claims to save.

And let us not forget that the claimed savings amount to just 1/10,000th of the Council’s Budget in any case (and yes, I have counted the zeros properly). That’s like a person on a salary of £25,000 needing to save the price of a cup of coffee from their annual spending.  You really have to ask whether it was worth the Council letting this go all the way to the High Court, with its attendant cost and effort, rather than just drop the plan or make suitable and sensible adjustments.

It is regrettable that the only way that Surrey residents can hold their Council to account and have a say on the library plans is through the High Court. If only the Council had consulted with residents and library users, and done so in an open-minded and collaborative way, then all this may have been avoided.

The Judicial Review will take place on Monday and Tuesday at the Royal Courts of Justice on The Strand in London. The case will be put before Mr Justice Wilkie in Court 19 starting at 10.30am. All are welcome to attend.

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We are only a few weeks away from the Judicial Review into Surrey County Council’s decision to dispose of its responsibility to run 10 libraries across Surrey. The decision will remove professional staff from the libraries, remove computer systems linking the libraries to the central library system, and forces volunteers to take legal responsibility for running the libraries – a decision over which neither local residents nor library users were consulted.

The Courts have found in library users’ favour thus far, rejecting SCC’s many technical attempts to avoid scrutiny, issuing an Injunction in quick time, and awarding an expedited Judicial Review, due to take place on the 19th and 20th March 2012.

The Legal Services Commission has granted the claimants legal aid but, due to the LSC having decided that the case is in the broad public interest and that a very large number of people stand to gain should the claim succeed, the LSC have insisted that the community makes a contribution to the legal costs in the region of £18,000.

Due to the High Court acting so quickly over the issue, we have very little time in which to raise the “Community Contribution” – just a few weeks!

So we are now making this unashamed appeal for you to contribute to the “fighting fund”. We believe libraries and librarians are worth fighting for and have been working extremely hard to protect them and improve them. But we do need your help. It is wonderful and encouraging to have such high profile celebrity supporters such as Stephen Fry, Brian Blessed and Sue Perkins, but as you can see from our fundraising thermometer on the right of this page, we still need everybody’s help, including you!

There are three ways you can donate:

1. Make an online transfer from your bank account to the SLAM bank account at LloydsTSB Account 48371668 Sort Code 30-99-80. Please also send an email to slamtreasurer12@gmail.com with your name , address and amount of donation. This will enable us to return any surplus donations.

2. If you wish to pay by cheque, please make it payable to “SLAM” and post with your contact details to SLAM Treasurer, 10 Coombe Way, Byfleet, West Byfleet, surrey KT14 7DP.

3. To pay by debit card, credit card or paypal, click on the yellow Donate button on the right and follow the instructions.

If the High Court finds in the claimants favour, and costs are awarded, then we will return all donations.

Thank you for reading and for your help. Please ask your friends and neighbours to help too! Pass the message on!

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Stephen Fry has come out in support of SLAM and its campaign to stop 10 libraries in Surrey being run solely by volunteers.

SLAM contacted Mr Fry’s office, explaining SCC’s library plans, the campaign against them and the impending Judicial Review. SLAM further explained that up to £18,000 needed to be raised within a few weeks to help pay the legal costs.

Stephen Fry’s office told SLAM that he was working on The Hobbit, which is being filmed in New Zealand, and that he didn’t have very much time at the moment, but that they would pass on all the information, and Stephen could then peruse and decide.

SLAM was therefore surprised and delighted when Mr Fry posted the following Tweet this morning to his nearly 4 million followers within 12 hours of the request being made:

stephenfry
Do help @surrey_slam fight the good fight for libraries and librarians. Give the price of a book: a fine cause http://t.co/BTBet2wv
17/02/2012 08:42

This is, of course, wonderful news for us and would ask that you follow Stephen’s sage advice in donating, if you can. Please use the button on the right of this page to donate or click on the “Legal Action and Fundraising” tab for alternative ways to donate.

Stephen Fry now joins local resident, Brian Blessed, and former Surrey resident, Sue Perkins in getting behind SLAM’s campaign to protect and improve Surrey libraries.

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SLAM is an open organisation and is always happy to discuss issues surrounding the provision of a comprehensive library service. We therefore welcome two recent articles that have appeared in local newspapers over the past week and would like to contribute to this debate.

The articles are posted below:
http://www.thisissurreytoday.co.uk/Library-volunteers-want-campaigners-drop-county/story-15146642-detail/story.html

http://www.getsurrey.co.uk/news/s/2107893_library_volunteers_thwarted_at_every_turn

The Judicial Review is being taken by two individuals who are supported by SLAM. Both articles report criticism that the Judicial Review was taken too late. Beryl Marlow, ex-Conservative Cllr, said, for instance: “I’m really very angry at the moment that at this late stage they have chosen to go to the courts. They have had since February.” The other article had very similar wording.

We greatly appreciate and understand people who have felt forced to volunteer to stop their library from closing, but the view stated above has previously been dealt with by  the High Court. Judge Thornton QC considered this point on 3rd February, commenting that if the request (for Judicial Review) had been made earlier than it had, then it would certainly have been dismissed as being “premature”. The Judge was satisfied that the claim had been made promptly and within three months of the relevant, challengeable decision.

Both articles then talk about the benefits of volunteering and how SLAM is anti-volunteers. The truth is that SLAM has always been pro-volunteers. Indeed, most SLAM supporters are library volunteers, but they want to support SCC by volunteering alongside paid staff, not in place of, and certainly do not want to take legal responsibility for the running of their libraries, an unusual demand to make of an unpaid volunteer.

Librarians respected and “much loved”

It is SLAM’s understanding, having consulted with many residents in the affected communities, that the paid library staff were greatly respected for their skill, knowledge and experience, very much appreciated, and that they were “much loved”. If the Judicial Review is successful, and paid staff are brought back into the libraries, we would hope that the volunteers that have been recruited would agree to work alongside the paid staff, extending opening hours, providing additional services and the like.

We think that this would be a very good model to promote and improve the affected libraries and ensure they are sustainable into the future. We would urge SCC to consider this suggestion very seriously, maintaining the Council’s statutory duty for these libraries, and would hope that most volunteers would agree with this outcome.

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The Royal Courts of Justice in London has ordered that Surrey County Council’s library plans will be subject to a Judicial Review. In a four and a half hour hearing on Friday, Judge Thornton QC concluded that the case against SCC had sufficient prospects of success to warrant the full scrutiny of the High Court.

During the lengthy hearing, SCC raised a succession of technical points to avoid their plans being scrutinised, including: striking out the claimant, Lucy Williams; stopping a second claimant, Nick Dorrington, from being added; and halting the claim altogether because SCC argued the proceedings were issued “out of time”. But Judge Thornton dismissed each one of the Council’s attempts.

The Judge also turned down SCC’s application to revoke the Injunction placed upon them to stop progressing with CPLs, but did accept special pleading from the Council to exempt Byfleet library. The Judge, however, did not order SCC to open Byfleet library as a CPL and, should the Council do so, it will be in the full knowledge that the library may well be returned to full staffing and full systems capability in just a few weeks, should the Judicial Review order it. Local residents will decide whether opening Byfleet as a CPL now, rather than pause just a few short weeks so they can proceed with certainty, is good administration.

We are very pleased with yesterday’s outcome and were heartened by the Judge’s comments that SLAM has shown a considerable commitment and dedication to the library service, and  has shown significant resilience in coping with the hard work and stress necessary to bring to the Court’s attention this “potential abuse of power” by Surrey County Council.

This moment has been a long time coming. Surrey County Council has not consulted with library users, has not assessed the impacts of Community Partnered Libraries on the affected communities, and has avoided scrutiny of its plans at every turn. Now, finally, the Council’s plans will be held up to the scrutiny they have lacked throughout. It’s just a shame it’s taken an appeal to the High Court to achieve this.

Judge Thornton has requested that the Judicial Review take place in the week beginning 20th February.

Fundraising

Please, please help if you can. It has taken considerable effort to get to this stage but we need help in paying the “Community Contribution” towards the legal costs. We will probably find out next week the exact level of Contribution but it is likely to be in the region of £15,000. We are very grateful to people who have already donated and helped in raising approx £3,000 so far. Any help you can give will be gratefully received. Please see out fundraising tab.

Thank you

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