The High Court has today ruled that the massive cuts to library provision in Gloucestershire and Somerset are unlawful and has quashed both councils’ planned library closures.
The ruling follows a three-day judicial review hearing in September 2011 at which the claimants argued that the Gloucestershire and Somerset local authorities had cut libraries too much, too quickly, and without considering the impact on disadvantaged groups. An injunction against both Councils had prevented the cuts being put into practice before today’s ruling. Those cuts have been struck-down in today’s ruling.
In a compelling judgment handed-down today at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, His Honour Judge McKenna found that (paragraph 46):
“Libraries..provide a highly valued service for those who use it”
He went on to rule that both councils had failed to take account of their equalities duties when pushing through the cuts, condemning both council’s approach as “bad Government”, and that it was “important to the Rule of Law” that the decisions be quashed.
Today’s ruling is a victory for campaigners whose opposition to the councils’ library cuts had been ignored. For over a year they had been pointing to the disproportionate effect that the cuts would have on disadvantaged groups such as the elderly, single mothers and the disabled. The High Court has today ruled comprehensively in their favour.
Speaking today, Daniel Carey of Public Interest Lawyers said as follows:
“Today’s High Court ruling sends a clear message not only to Gloucestershire and Somerset, but to every council in the country, that catering for the needs of the vulnerable must be at the heart of any decision to cut important services such as libraries. The judge spoke of the ‘open-signal’ this ruling will send to other councils who must now fundamentally re-appraise their library provision, and the Culture Minister must now step in to halt disproportionate cuts to library provision that are disenfranchising vulnerable users nationwide.”
Phil Shiner, principal of Public Interest Lawyers also stated:
“The court has today shown that local authorities are not above the law. These disproportionate and unjust cuts have been quashed in their entirety. These councils’ reliance on the ‘open-society’ has failed in the face of their clear equalities duty.”
In Gloucestershire, the County Council proposed to withdraw funding from 10 of 38 static libraries and to withdraw the much-loved mobile library service – a lifeline to isolated communities and elderly care home residents – altogether. Similar cuts were proposed in Somerset, with 11 of 34 static libraries due to lose their funding and 4 of 6 mobile libraries already off the road. None of these cuts may now go ahead as a result of today’s ruling.
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