Council’s contempt for High Court proceedings…

…Further embarrassment for Jeremy Hunt exposed

Media Release: 18 July 2011

UPDATE:

Brent Council tonight dramatically withdrew proposals to dispose of half of its library properties in an eleventh-hour U-turn the night before it was due to defend its actions in the High Court.

In the first legal challenge against library closures in the country, Brent library users’ case against the council will be heard in the High Court on Tuesday and Wednesday (19 & 20 July 2011).

Brent Council executive met this evening to agree to sell off library buildings BEFORE the hearing.

But, following a flood of requests at the weekend from library users to address the meeting and object to the sales, the executive decided to postpone the vote.

Brent Council’s executive is to meet tonight to vote on disposals of half of its library properties AHEAD of a High Court hearing to decide whether its library closures are lawful.

In the first legal challenge against library closures in the country, Brent library users’ case against the council will be heard in the High Court on Tuesday and Wednesday.

 

But in an extraordinary show of contempt for due legal process, the council intends to press on with the sales – and will vote on disposals on Monday night, the eve of the High Court hearing.

John Halford of Bindmans LLP, Helen Mountfield QC, Gerry Facenna and Edward Craven will argue that the council adopted a fundamentally flawed and unlawful, approach to the objective of making savings because it:

  • STARTED from the false premise that library closures were an inevitability, closing its mind to reasonable alternatives
  • FAILED to assess local need
  • FAILED to comply with equality legislation, and its own impact assessment policies
  • FAILED to disclose its criteria, and reasons, for rejecting alternative community-based means of retaining some or all of the libraries earmarked for closure.

This is a landmark case for library closures, and will define the view taken by the courts in the many legal actions that are waiting to go ahead up and down the country.  Cases from Gloucestershire and the Isle of Wight will be heard by the end of the year.

John Halford argues that the decision will have “serious, irreversible consequences” for those who rely on the six libraries.

“Given the importance of the decision for local people, the council was obliged to explore all the options carefully and make sure that it had accurate evidence about the likely impact of the decision, in particular on disadvantaged groups. If the council had approached the matter with an open mind and avoided the errors above, the outcome of the decision-making process could have been radically different.”

On the same day that Rupert Murdoch is grilled by the media select committee, this libraries hearing could heap further embarrassment on Secretary of State Jeremy Hunt, who has so far refused to intervene under the Museums and Libraries Act 1964, despite hundreds of complaints from residents and letters from Brent North MP Barry Gardiner.

This case exposes fundamental failings at Brent, which claims it needs to save £1m over two years from the libraries service, but continues to spend millions on trophy projects such as the new £100m Civic Centre at Wembley Stadium with its £3m mega-library.

Council leader Ann John has boasted of council investment in a £4m boulevard that will be created to lead visitors from Wembley Park Tube station to Wembley Stadium.

And at the same time Brent Council is spending between £1.2m and £1.5m PER MONTH on “consultants fees”.

Preston campaigners are acutely aware that the closure and sale of their library is not driven by efficiency, as Brent Council claims, but the need to push users to the new Civic Centre library (to create demand where none exists) and to increase capital receipts to pay for the project.

The outcome of the case could mean the council halting the closure programme and restarting the decision-making process.

***

INTERVIEW OPPORTUNITY:

TUESDAY 19 JULY & WEDNESDAY 20 JULY:

0940:  John Halford, solicitor for Brent SOS Campaign, outside appointed court room.

1030 – 1630 : Hearing

0900 and 1630 – rallies outside Royal Courts of Justice, Strand. (Giles Coren due to attend Tue 0900)

***

 Email Us (24 hour response until Thur 22 July)

***

NOTES FOR EDITORS

1. Previous ITN report highlighting hypocrisy of a cash-strapped Brent Council spending £100m on a Civic Centre in an era of cutbacks.

2. Journalists are welcome to collect background material at the Brent Council Executive – where a preemptory vote will take place on disposal of buildings not yet closed. Preston and Tokyngton library are the only 2 buildings (of 6) that can be sold. Their collective value is claimed at £1m (2/3 is Preston, which is on a busy high street).
Monday 18 July, 7pm, Brent Town Hall.
An explanation of procedure can be found here.

3. On April 11th, Brent Council’s Labour executive unanimously voted to close Preston, Cricklewood, Kensal Rise, Neasden, Tokyngton and Barham Park – 50% of its libraries. This was despite 82% of consultees rejecting the plan and 10,000+ petition signatures.

4. Brent SOS Libraries (Save Our Six Libraries) is a coalition of local library campaigns formed to pursue a judicial review. They have been fundraising to contribute to the community costs of the legally-aided action. Nick Cave, Depeche Mode, Goldfrapp and the Pet Shop Boys have all contributed to the legal fund.

 5. John Halford of Bindmans LLP won against the Met police on the tactic of kettling (April 2011). John is a human rights and public law department partner who acts for individuals and groups to challenge abuse of power, human rights breaches and discrimination. In 2007 he won the Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year Award for social and welfare law.

6. Brent Council is looking to save £1m over two years with the closure of 6 libraries. However, according to the TaxPayers Alliance 2011 Town Hall Rich List, Brent is in the top 10, paying 29 officers more than £100k a year. Chief executive Gareth Daniel takes home £250k  a year alone (including pension).

7. Brent Council also is spending between £1.2m and £1.5m PER MONTH on “consultants fees”.  See council documents here.

8. More information at

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/news/fight-to-save-local-libraries-gets-its-day-in-court-2314964.html

www.brentSOSlibraries.org.uk

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Posted on July 17, 2011, in Brent Council, In the News, Legal Update. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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