A schoolgirl and her mother have successfully challenged Northamptonshire County Council’s plans to close 21 of the county’s 36 libraries.
Yesterday, the High Court ruled the council’s proposals as ‘unlawful’ because it meant the council would fail in its duties to provide statutory services to children and vulnerable groups, including elderly people and blue badge holders.
In February 2018, Northamptonshire County Council effectively declared itself bankrupt and the proposal to close 21 libraries formed part of its efforts to reduce spending and balance its books.
However in March 2018 a young girl and her mother – who remain anonymous – sought a judicial review and yesterday Mrs Justice Yip declared the council’s consultation process was inadequate and it had a legal obligation to provide library services.
Impact on Vulnerable People
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Following the ruling the child’s mother said: “We have fought hard against the proposed unfair cuts to our much-loved library service. The closures would have had a devastating impact on families like ourselves, but also on the most vulnerable people within our community.”
The libraries offer us so much more than just books.
The school girl’s mother
“The libraries offer us so much more than just books. They offer residents access to the relevant district council’s one-stop shop, blue badge and bus pass renewal, children’s services and plenty more services that residents rely on.
“It is well known that the council is in a difficult financial position but it simply did not think about the impact of these cuts and the effect that they would have had on local communities.”
Education and Equality are Human Rights
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It’s a case which touches on several of our human rights including the Human Rights Convention‘s Right to Education, which protects our rights to receive an education, and also the Equality Act, with Justice Yip flagging the council’s failure to consider the impact or the library closures on vulnerable people, in the ruling.
And while the ruling does not mean that Northamptonshire County Council is unable to close libraries in the future, it is being hailed as a landmark because campaigners and members of the public are understanding fundamental legal rights and using them to challenge cuts to council services.
People do now want… to know what their legal rights are and to feel empowered to stand up for their local services.
Caroline Barrett, lawyer
Caroline Barrett, the lawyer who represented the family, told the New Statesman, ‘There’s a real groundswell movement where people do now want to challenge the things affecting them… to know what their legal rights are and to feel empowered to stand up for their local services.”
As the number of legal challenges to library closures and cuts to council services rises, it will be interesting to see they are successful. Campaigners will have been heartened by yesterday’s ruling and the idea that councils, regardless of financial position, are legally obligated to fulfil their statutory and common law duties.