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Council fends off High Court challenge over day centre closure

A High Court judge has rejected a judicial review challenge to a local authority’s decision to close a day centre for adults with a learning disability.

In LH & CM, R (on the application of) v Shropshire Council [2013] EWHC 4222 the claimants – both of whom have learning disabilities – sought to challenge Shropshire’s:

  • decision to close Hartley’s Day Centre in Shrewsbury (the first claimant’s challenge); and
  • decision to refuse to consult the users of 16 other centres in the county that may be closed down in the future. This challenge was brought by the second claimant, who attends one of the centres concerned (at Church Stretton).

The claimants argued that Shropshire had failed lawfully to consult in both cases, and had failed to comply with its public sector equality duty.

His Honour Judge Sycamore said he was satisfied that, in respect of the first claimant, there was an arguable case and so granted permission. However, he said that the application on behalf of the second claimant was premature as there had not been a decision to close, nor was the council planning to close Church Stretton.

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HHJ Sycamore concluded that the challenge on consultation must fail. “The nature and scope of the consultation, a matter for the defendant, was in my judgment, appropriate against the background of both the subject matter and those affected,” he said.

The judge added that there was no evidence to support the argument for legitimate expectation, nor was there any justification to involve the users from Hartley’s in a more detailed and, necessarily, costly consultation than other users.

“In summary, against a background in which a need for modernisation of service provision had been identified and an extensive consultation with all users as to potential closure of day centres had been undertaken, there cannot be said to have been any legitimate expectation of further individual consultation in respect of each individual day centre as to its future,” HHJ Sycamore said. “Such a consultation in any event would have been disproportionate and inappropriate.”

The judge also rejected the PSED challenge. He said: “In my judgment, a reading of the EIA [equality impact assessment] and the Council Report, which included the information from the 2011 and 2012 consultations, demonstrates the defendant took an appropriate analysis in reaching its conclusions on impact and complying with its duties under section 149.

“It had appropriate and adequate information to reach the conclusions it did in respect of impact on the protected groups and reached conclusions which were open to it on the available evidence.”

Cllr Lee Chapman, Cabinet member for adult services at Shropshire, said: “People are choosing alternative activities to attending a day centre, but day centre support is still available across the county if this is the right type of support for an individual.
 
“We understand that people will have concerns about the changes taking place and we are working with families and people who use day centres in Shropshire to find more ways for them to be part of their communities.”

He added: “The court supported our approach, showing that we have taken the right decisions and effectively involved people in the changes. People receiving services and their families also continue to help us to develop adult social care services.” 

Law firm Irwin Mitchell, which is acting for the claimants, said an appeal had been lodged. A permission hearing is expected to take place this Wednesday (15 January).

 

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