Category Archives: Legal Update

The next stage: challenge the DCMS

Louise Mensch and Tom Watson from Media & Culture Select CommitteeAlthough our legal challenge through the courts has come to an end, it is not over. We are now going to challenge the Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt on his department’s failure to investigate library closures for more than a year.

We will do this on two fronts. Today, our legal team has sent a letter demanding action. The DCMS met with Brent Council last year, but has so far ignored thousands of complaints made by us.

And tomorrow, the cross-party Parliamentary Select Committee for Culture, Media and Sport is holding its enquiry into national library closures: Tuesday 7 February, 10.30am, Palace of Westminster, Committee Room 15 (it’ll be packed so get there early)

Over 130 submissions were made by all sorts of groups and people. It makes for very interesting reading.

You can find our 3 submissions at pgs 133, 366 and 544 as well as one from Barry Gardiner MP (pg. 583) and the inevitable defence from Brent Council (pg. 608). You can read them all here.

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Campaign will go on – despite Supreme Court setback

Tara Brady writes in the Kilburn Times

Campaigners leading the fight to save Brent’s closed libraries are not giving up hope and have vowed to carry on. The news library supporters had been dreading was announced today – that the highest court in the land, the Supreme Court, will not hear their case.

banners hung outside Preston Library read: "Give us back our library. The fight goes on" and "This is your world. Shape it, or someone else will"

 

Margaret Bailey, who helped to take the fight to the High Court and the Appeal Court, said: “Obviously the decision is disappointing, and worrying that judges are able to make decisions that allow for the disregard of laws that are meant to protect people simply so that councils can make cuts. What next? Ignore the Equalities Act, the Human Rights Act because they may be too expensive to enforce?”

Samantha Warrington, Preston Library supporter, believes there should be a public inquiry. She said: “We have always been pursuing other routes. Now the legal avenue has closed we hope there will be a public inquiry and that Brent will consider alternatives in a way Camden has done it so positively.”

Read whole article here.

The battle to save Preston Library

Thanks to Rosie Hayes at YourNewsUKtv for documenting our fight…

Can’t afford libraries ?!?

Brent wastes our moneyApparently not. It costs about £400,000 to keep 6 local libraries open. But Brent has convinced the establishment it can’t afford this. Probably because it is busy wasting £hundreds of millions of taxpayer money (below).

Justice Pill said today:

Given the scale of the spending reductions the council was required to make … a decision that the library service should bear a share of the reduction was not, in my judgment, unlawful.

Perhaps he should have a chat with Gareth Daniel, Chief Executive of Brent Council:

 the reality is that these inevitably controversial initiatives represent just a very small part of our total £42 million savings requirement for the 2011/12 financial year.

Such a small saving has not stopped Brent from spending enormous amounts of (paid) time and money defending the policy.

Brent can’t afford our libraries, but it can afford:

£550,000 for Willesden Green library – about to be bulldozed due to it being a failure. It costs more than 6 libraries put together.

£100 million mortgage on the Civic Centre – this includes that vital £4 million “tree-lined boulevard” – this project hasn’t seen a penny cut.

£3 million on a single mega-library no one asked for.

£17.3 million after failing to collect unpaid debt.

£2.5 million on the salaries of just 19 council officers – putting Brent in the Top 10 Town Hall Rich List 2011.

£205,000 salary for Chief Executive Gareth Daniel – more than the Prime Minister.

£1-2 million per month on consultants.

£800,000 Ward working (half spent on admin alone, and the rest on flowerbeds and graffiti workshops)

£500,000 on Christmas decorations for Willesden Green High Street.

£180,000 a year on the Brent Mayor.

£150,000 a year on the loss making Brent Magazine – paid for by council departments.

That totals around £140 million (give or take) that could be BETTER SPENT on libraries, nurseries and centres for the disabled. It dwarfs the £42million Brent says it needs to save. Priorities eh?

 

Legal Comment

John Halford of Bindmans LLP, representing Brent SOS Campaign said:
“Today’s Court of Appeal ruling is very difficult to reconcile with what Parliament intended when it enacted the equality duty that obliges Brent, and all other local authorities, to properly grapple with the impact withdrawal of local services of this kind has on communities.

The Court of Appeal appears to accept that there is a risk of indirect discrimination against significant numbers of people in Brent resulting from its plans to impose devastating cuts on local library services, but it has excused the Council from properly taking that risk into account before it deciding to make those cuts.

Our position is that this is simply wrong in principle. If the Supreme Court is willing to hear this case, we anticipate the outcome being very different.”

Is it all over? Nope.

Today, our appeal was rejected. Brent Council ignored 83% of residents in its sham consultation and managed to convince the judges that it cannot afford Preston Library (around £200,000),  as it spends half a million on christmas decorations in Willesden Green, £100 million on the mortgage for the Civic Centre and £3 million on a new mega-library no one has asked for.

Brent Council lied about our library being “poorly located and low usage” – it is neither, it was the one of the best performing libraries in the borough.  But failing to collect and analyse the data properly, riding roughshod over the views and needs of the public and wasting public money  is not actually prohibited by any particular law. So there you go.

Given this, we are not giving up. We DO have a strong case, and we will go to the Supreme Court if we can.

What happens now? As we decide on the next steps, there are still things you can do before the library is bulldozed permanently:

1. Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport is obliged to investigate any failures to provide an efficient and comprehensive service. He said he has been waiting for the verdict. He has it now and it is time to act. Write to him here.

We have lost 218 hours of library service across Brent. In return the Council has “improved its service” by a mere 23 hours. It takes 5 weeks to get a delivery of books if you cannot get to one of their remaining, inaccessible libraries.

2. A cross-party Select Committee is also investigating the nationwide closures. We will be submitting evidence next month.

3. Not one Labour councillor publicly opposed against the closures. Not one voted against.  It is up to every voter in Brent to complain to their councillor, MP and London Assembly member, Navin Shah. It is unacceptable and undemocratic to ignore such huge opposition.  Call, email and write to them here.

Brent SOS response to today’s verdict

Our legal team presented compelling evidence of damage to communities from Brent Council’s library closures, so we are disappointed that the appeal judges have not found in our favour.

Closing half of our libraries has had a devastating effect on the most vulnerable members of our community, among them children and families, the elderly, the disabled and those unemployed or on low incomes.

Brent has always had the means to keep these libraries open, it just lacks the will. The overwhelming strength of public feeling over the last year shows that communities need, want and will support local libraries.

Secretary of State Jeremy Hunt has so far held back pending the outcome of this test case. The thousands of letters and petitions he has received demonstrate that Brent is neglecting its duties under the Libraries and Museums Act, and he must now call hold a public inquiry into the actions of this council.

Brent SOS Libraries campaign will also present evidence to the select committee that clearly demonstrates Brent’s failures.

 

Appeal verdict expected Monday – 2pm @High Court, Strand

Save Preston LibraryLord Justices Pill, Richards and Davis are to give their judgment into the closure by Brent Council of six of its 12 libraries at the Royal Courts of Justice in the Strand, London.

The judgment will be handed down at 2 pm in Court 72.

Brent SOS Libraries appealed against a High Court judge’s decision that Brent’s closures were lawful at a two-day hearing on 10-11 November.

Dinah Rose QC argued on behalf of library users and Brent SOS Libraries Campaign that in deciding to close six libraries, the library had failed to prevent discrimination against groups such as Asians, young children and local school children, by neglecting to assess the impact on such groups.

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Local children plea for library

400 letters written by children to Brent Labour - all were ignored

400 letters written by children to Brent Labour - all were ignored

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STOP PRESS: MPs launch inquiry into library closures

Parliamentary Committee investigates library closuresThe same people who have been grilling the Murdoch’s lately have turned their attention to libraries. This can only be a good thing.

PLEASE WRITE IN. Details below….

Committee announces new inquiry INTO LIBRARY CLOSURES

The Culture, Media and Sport Committee [not the DCMS] is today launching a new inquiry into library closures. The Committee is inviting written submissions and requesting views on the following issues:

  •  what constitutes a comprehensive and efficient library service for the 21st century;
  • the extent to which planned library closures are compatible with the requirements of the Libraries & Museums Act 1964 and the Charteris Report;
  • the impact library closures have on local communities;
  • the effectiveness of the Secretary of State’s powers of intervention
  • under the Public Libraries & Museums Act 1964.

A copy of the submission should be sent by e-mail to
cmsev@parliament.uk and have ‘Library closures’ in the subject line.
Submissions should be received by Thursday 12th January 2012.

Guidance on submitting written evidence

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Discriminating Decisions

The wonderful Tara Brady of the Times group has a bit more detail on this key indirect discrimination point argues by our QC, Dinah Rose on Thursday and Friday…

“Asian and non-Asian residents all contribute to the local authority’s budget by payment of the council tax. But it is potentially discriminatory for the local authority to target cuts for services which are disproportionately heavily used by Asians.”

I spy…. an update on the Appeal

Thanks to Elaine at I Spy in Queens Park blog for her fulsome account of both days of our appeal…

Brent Libraries Latest – the Appeal

Just back from court 63 where Lord Justices Pill, Richards and Davis have spent the last two days hearing the appeal against Mr Justice Ouseley’s decision in favour of Brent Council on 13th October.

After a slightly surreal start with the usher announcing a case involving the “London Borough of Trent“, conjuring up unlikely images of Ann John as Maid Marion, he corrected himself, and the hearing began.  We have a new barrister – Dinah Rose – and she was very impressive.  She opened the case yesterday with the complicated indirect discrimination point – but she explained it so well that I think all 50 or so supporters – (the court was packed and folding chairs had to be brought it!) may now be able to explain it to someone else.
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Day 1 of The Appeal

Here’s a snapshot of some of the happenings at court yesterday courtesy of Martin Francis. The hearing resumes today at 10.30 at the Royal Courts of Justice on The Strand.

For more background see our Legal page.


The public gallery  of Court 63 was crowded with Brent library campaigners today as the first day of the Appeal was being heard.  The Appellant’s QC made it clear that the library campaigners’ case was based on the process that Brent Council followed in its consultation and decision to close the libraries, rather than whether it was right to close libraries as such.

She focused particularly on the Council’s failure to recognise that its own data signalled the possibility that the closure of the six libraries would indirectly discriminate against the Asian population of Brent. The figures showed that whilst Asians constituted 28% of the Brent population, they accounted for 46% of library users while the white population of 45% accounted for only 29% of users. As 3 of the six libraries that were closed served areas with higher than average  Asian population,  they were left with only Ealing Road library in the ward with the most dense Asian population. (Before the closure of the other libraries more than 60% of Ealing Road users were Asian)  So not only were people deprived of their own libraries but the remaining library at Ealing Road, as later evidence testified, had become over-crowded as a result of the closures.

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TODAY: Appeal @ High Court – 10.30am The Strand

Brent SOS library campaign will be at the High Court to appeal against the unnecessary closure of 50% of Brent’s libraries by the Labour-run council.

10.30 am at Courtroom 63 – The Royal Courts of Justice on The Strand, London.
Rally from 9.30am – Nearest tube: Temple, Holborn and Charing Cross (in that order)

The hearing will last 1 ½ days, possibly extending a little into Friday afternoon. The Appellants’ (i.e. Margaret, Steve and Nipuni’s) new QC, Dinah Rose, will open and close the case with the Council’s QC making her own submissions half way through. Dinah will argue the Council:

  • did not appreciate the likely impact of its plans to close libraries on particular groups in the community, such as Asian people, and without understanding this impact properly could not make a lawful decision compatible with its Equality Act 2010 duties to eliminate discrimination;
  • did not assess need for local library services, especially that of children; and
  • was unfair to community groups who put forward proposals to save the threatened libraries.

We cannot say for sure when there will be a judgment, but it is likely to be forthcoming very quickly – the Court fully appreciates the importance and urgency of this case.

Details of July’s Judicial Review and outcome here.

Council required to leave libraries alone until Appeal in November

The Guardian (among others) writes:

A judge has fast-tracked an urgent hearing of an appeal against Brent council’s closure of six libraries.

Lord Justice Elias granted an appeal against a ruling made last week in the high court that Brent council’s decision was lawful. He ordered that attempts should be made for it to be heard before the court of appeal on two days early next month.

Brent council has agreed, in the meantime, to take no irrevocable steps to prevent the libraries reopening in the event of the appeal being won.

Campaigners have mounted vigils outside two of the threatened libraries, Preston Road, which has already been boarded up by the council, and Kensal Rise, to ensure they are not emptied of books or computers while the legal dispute continues.

The valiant campaigners who have braved the cold outside Preston night and day since Monday can breathe a small sigh of relief.   You have made national news and we salute you.

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Library campaigners mount vigils to prevent Brent council clearing shelves

The day the council came to cart away our books, a plucky band of Preston-ers were there to stop them…including:

My favourite photo

Geraldine Cooke, a publisher just back from the Frankfurt Book Fair, stood close by, honking defiantly on a red horn

given to her in Germany by a US erotica publisher in a gesture of intellectual solidarity. Every now and then, her honks were answered by passing cars.

Cooke, who, along with her fellow campaigners, has been organising petitions and raising £30,000 for a legal fighting fund, said she had no plans to give up the battle. “I think we’ll do it for as long as it takes, even though we’re not many people down here,” she said, nodding at the seven other protesters. “There’s no doubting the passion of the people here.”

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We will continue the fight to save much-needed libraries

Today we got our verdict on Round 1 of Brent residents v the Labour Council.  Mr Justice Ousley today dismissed a judicial review brought by campaigners seeking to overturn Brent Council’s decision to close half of its public libraries.

The solicitor, John Halford of Bindmans LLP said:

“Today’s judgement means that half of Brent’s libraries remain under threat and has very troubling implications for library closure decisions nationally. That is why Ms Bailey, Ms Desoysa and Mr Lester will be pursing an appeal and the local campaign will renew its efforts to expose the senselessness of Brent’s decision. It cannot be right to decimate the library service of an inner London borough whose children are desperate to read and study but whose parents cannot afford books nor the transport costs of regular access to distant libraries. Nor is Brent right to say the threatened libraries are unnecessary to meet local needs. The passion and commitment of the community campaign to keep them open shows that is nonsense.” (full press release here)

We are not just a bunch of NIMBYs trying to save a defunct service, this is the biggest campaign Brent has seen in half a century – 10,000 + signatures, 82% opposition to the closure plan, including almost every school in the borough. We use our libraries, we value them, and we need them. Brent Council can easily afford to keep them open, and their loss means a decimated, two-tier library service that will fail residents.

Margaret Bailey, on behalf of Brent Libraries SOS campaign said:

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STOP PRESS: Verdict to be announced Thursday

Our judicial review – the first in the UK – took place in July and the wait for a verdict is almost over. This Thursday 13th October at 10 am at the High Court (Strand), we will find out just what Mr Justice Ousely  has to say about library closures in Brent in a ruling that could affect local councils across the country.

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Ruling postponed till October

The verdict for the Judicial Review has been postponed until October. This is good news as our libraries will remain open until then. We’re glad the judge is taking his time considering such an important issue.

As Wembley Matters blog explains:

As Brent Council promised to keep the libraries open until the decision this means that the Summer Reading Scheme should go ahead as normal at the six threatened libraries.  Bindmans the solicitors handling the case will have talks with Brent’s solicitors to ensure that no significant damage is done to the Brent library service in the meantime.

Meanwhile, we have reached a whopping £20,000 – two thirds of our fundraising target – in just a few month. keep coming to our events, tell your friends and help us save your library.

 

 

Brent Council in the Dock – day 3

As promised, here is a update on day 3 of the hearing which ended yesterday. You can read it on the BBC, or even the Belfast Telegraph.  Here is a fuller account of the arguments, courtesy of Benedicte Page at the Bookseller:

Judgement in the judicial review into Brent council’s proposed library closures may be given in August, the judge Mr Justice Ouseley said yesterday (21st July), on the concluding day of the High Court proceeding.

Earlier Elizabeth Laing QC, representing the council, had countered the argument made by the claimants’ lawyers that Brent had “closed its mind” to alternative proposals made by community groups for the running of the six libraries proposed for closure. Laing told the court correspondence between interested parties and the council showed “engagement between officers and groups on this process” and that proposals to run the service were assessed by officers in accordance with published criteria—”a robust, viable business case at no cost to the council.” But the proposals made had been “unrealistic”, the court heard.

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Brent Council in the Dock – Day 2 cont…

We’re actually coming to the end of day 3 now, the final day of the hearing. I will post an round up what happened today later on.

But in the meantime, you might be interested to hear what happened yesterday, on day 2 when we finished our bit and Brent began their defence.

Save Kensal Rise Library did an excellent write up on their site:

…for many watching, it was the arguments made about Brent’s inadequate consultation process and the failure to properly consider community proposals that really hit home, and some of these arguments seem to have resonated with the judge…

As did the venerable Elaine from ‘I spy in Queens Park’.

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Brent Council in the Dock – Day 2

It’s day 2 and Brent Council have begun their defence. The hearing will continue tomorrow at the same times to allow us to respond to their defence. It was a full house again today, as dedicated campaigners from all over Brent came to hear what the Council has to say for itself. Both and the were in attendence – though the big story will be when the verdict is announced. There were scurrilous rumours that the verdict would come tonight, which we promptly scotched. The hearing won’t be done till tomorrow so a verdict today would be very premature. It’s most likely to come next week.

For a fuller account of yesterday’s hearing, see Elaine’s account in her I Spy in Queens Park blog here:

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.

I Spy in Queens Park

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Brent Council in the Dock: Day 1

Despite Murdoch’s best efforts to monopolise the media, our legal challenge was  featured in national, London and local media, with more to come…

Besides our good friends at Wembley & Brent Times and the Wembley Observer,  we were in (deep breath)….

The London Evening Standard ITV London Tonight The Daily Mail The Independent BBC The Guardian

Metro London 24Bearsden Herald

 etc….

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Protestors force deferral of decision to sell Preston Library

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.

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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).

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TODAY: Brent council in the dock

stop press:

HEARING EXTENDED TILL THURSDAY 21st JULY

(verdict not expected till next week)

High Court Hearing - 9am - 4.30pm Tue 19 & Wed 20 July 2011
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