19 Dec 2011

Brent Libraries Decimation Smokescreen: The Fight Continues

On 19 December 2011, the People of Brent lost their Appeal in the High Court against Brent Council in their determination to see half of the borough's libraries returned to use (previous postings).

The Judge almost whisphered his verdict. Public speaking training may be required, or maybe this is the accepted technique for swallowing words for conclusions which don't follow from the arguments presented? I collected a copy of the Judgment (since available on-line) so I could convince myself that he hadn't misread the conclusion. Indeed, two of the three judges say in the report that they "would dismiss this appeal" and the third says he agreed for reasons given by the first two. However, as an example of the kind of bizarre logic presented in the Judgment:

"So that is the real question: whether the council did have due regard. This has to be decided as a matter of substance, not form. Thus in any particular case it is not necessarily fatal if there is no EIA [equalities impact assessment]; and likewise it is not necessarily conclusive if there is an EIA." (LJ Davis, para 92)

But this is to set out, in form [sic.], that an insubstantial EIA - ie. none - will not count against a consideration of whether due regard has been taken with respect to section 149 of the Equality Act 2010 (in particular, as this relates to indirect racial discrimination of a community disproportionately affected by the closures). Doesn't deployment of this bizarre substance/form distinction beg the question about what weight is to be given to such an EIA, particularly when the Appelants have contended that the Council has paid insufficient regard to its duties under the Equality Act?

The library campaigners congregated in the corridor outside to hear from their solicitor, John Halford of Bindmans LLP (pictured, with papers). He gave an account of what happened and articulated options for the campaigners to consider. An emergency motion was moved by the campaigners to continue the fight in the Supreme court and to instruct their solicitors, in the first instance, to prepare a petition to have the case heard there. I also felt as though our solicitors had public interest in their sights and the requisite, and reassuring, level of impassioned commitment to the cause - without this clouding their judgment.

The campaigners' solicitor, John Halford, of Bindmans LLP said today:

"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 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."

Dr Shahrar Ali, Green Party London Assembly candidate for Brent and Harrow said:

"This is another sad day for the People of Brent in their collective aim to get the Libraries' Decimation Smokescreen exposed for what it is. In an unconscionable raid on some of our few remaining community spaces, the Council would deprive its people of the best part of their educational resources and have the audacity to pretend that we simply don't understand that this is really for our own good! The People of Brent will not stand for it; we will prevail in the Courts the third time!"

My colleague Martin Francis is posting at Wembley Matters.

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