CAMPAIGNERS could find out later today whether a High Court bid to stop library cuts has been successful.
Concerned Somerset and Gloucestershire residents have taken their claims against withdrawal of funding from more than 40 libraries and the mobile service to a judicial review which opened on Tuesday in Birmingham.
In Somerset, 11 of 34 libraries could lose their funding completely and a number of villages could lose their mobile service. Reduced opening hours are threatened at other libraries, and voluntary groups are being invited to run those which are threatened with closure.
Injunctions obtained by Public Interest Lawyers, a company specialising in matters of constitutional significance affecting large numbers of people, have prevented the councils from going ahead with their plans.
The injunctions say the councils have breached their legal obligations by failing to adhere to the statutory requirements of the Libraries and Museums Act, not consulting residents properly and not taking their views into consideration.
The legal challenge was launched in April, and following a hearing at Taunton the people bringing it linked up with those campaigning in Gloucestershire. They face legal fees of between £5,000 and £11,000 if they lose.
Daniel Carey of Public Interest Lawyers said: "Whatever the 'Big Society' is, it should not be a fig leaf for excessive and ill-conceived cuts or the surrendering of cherished public services.
"These cuts will disenfranchise the elderly, the vulnerable and those living in isolated communities.
"We are confident that the High Court will require a fundamental re-think of the councils' plans."
His colleague, Phil Shiner, added: "The councils have been determined to push these cuts through with complete disregard for library users. It is the role of the courts on judicial review to prevent such unlawful decision making."
Proposals for library cuts in Somerset emerged in August last year with proposed reductions in hours at a number of libraries.
In November the county's cabinet considered plans for a three-tier system in which only the major libraries such as Yeovil would be fully supported. Market towns such as Wincanton would have a lower-level service, and community libraries serving a smaller catchment area would be only part-supported, run by volunteers or close.
Volunteers stepped in with offers to help in a number of smaller libraries, including Castle Cary, Bailey Hill, Bruton. People from Ilminster, South Petherton and Martock, also on the closure list with Somerton and Milborne Port, packed a public meeting to voice their concerns.
In January, the council said it would save libraries at Castle Cary, Somerton and Ilminster but introduce 20 per cent cuts to opening hours at all funded libraries, including Yeovil, Chard, Crewkerne and Langport.