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Judge quashes Surrey County Council's decision to proceed with volunteer-run libraries

Archived news: 03 May 2012

Mr Justice Wilkie has made a Court Order quashing the decision of Surrey County Council in September 2011 to take paid staff out of 10 of the authority’s libraries, leaving them to be kept open by volunteers.

The Order brings to a close an application for Judicial Review brought by two Surrey residents, Lucy Williams and Nicholas Dorrington, alleging that the Council had failed to discharge its public sector equality duties under the Equality Act 2010.

Witness statements in support of the claim argued that paid staff were crucial in providing assistance to vulnerable users. Paid staff were able to develop knowledge, both of the library service and its users, which community volunteers spending a few hours in the library could not be expected to provide.

In advising the Cabinet on 27 September 2011, Council Officers had simply made short reference to the need for training of volunteers, without any analysis of what training might be needed and whether it
would even be possible for training to mitigate the impact of removing paid staff.

Mr Justice Wilkie, in a judgment handed down on 3 April 2012, had held that:

“In my judgment, the reliance by the Defendant on the same bland assertions that training would be required and monitored, as had been contained in the February report, fell substantially short of enabling the cabinet members to give due regard to this obvious equality issue at the stage the process had reached in September.”

And that:

“[a]ccordingly in my judgment the claimants have succeeded in establishing that the decision of the 27th September 2011 was unlawful.”

Surrey County Council initially sought to dismiss the clear ruling as “technical” and stated (astonishingly) that it was “pleased” with the judgment and that it could now proceed with its plans. However, following comments made by Ed Vaizey, Minister for Culture, on BBC Radio Surrey, the Council has resiled from that position and accepted the Order now made by the Judge.

Mr Justice Wilkie’s Order declares the decision to be unlawful and quashes it. It means that Surrey County Council cannot now implement its decision to proceed with volunteer-run libraries.

Were the policy to be put back to Cabinet for a fresh decision, the Council would have to comply with the terms of the judgment, and carry out a far more detailed analysis of the equalities implications of its plans. Campaigners will now focus on achieving a professional and efficient library service for Surrey which is accessible to all.

Nick Dorrington said:

"I’m glad Surrey County Council realise that they have wasted tens of thousands of rate payers pounds on a half baked scheme and subsequently defending their incompetence in court. If they want to re-examine the issue they must consult properly and involve the users of community libraries at every stage of the process and be prepared to compromise."


Daniel Carey, Solicitor, of Public Interest Lawyers, said:

"Surrey County Council’s initial response that it was ‘pleased’ with a judgment which found such clear unlawfulness in its decision making process was remarkably ill-judged. I am pleased that the Council’s library decision has now been quashed. Any fresh decision must take full account of the Council’s equalities duties and provide a professional service accessible to all."


For more information please contact Public Interest Lawyers on 0121 515 5069 or info@publicinterestlawyers.co.uk

 

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