Lincolnshire County Council has become the latest local authority to face judicial review proceedings over proposed cuts to its libraries.
Law firm Public Interest Lawyers filed papers at the High Court last week on behalf of claimant Simon Draper.
They are seeking an order quashing the council’s decision on 3 December 2013 to reduce its library provision.
Under the plans 30 existing libraries would be handed over to community groups. The local authority will continue to staff its remaining 15 libraries. It has also said it will offer online and mobile library services as well as targeted provision for those unable to access their nearest library.
The legal action has been backed by the Save Lincolnshire Libraries campaign. Four grounds of challenge have been put forward:
- The consultation that preceded the decision was unlawful “in that decisions had already been taken before the consultation began”.
- Lincolnshire failed to take due regard of its obligations under the public sector equality duty as required by the Equality Act 2010. “The council had already identified that disabled people, older people, young people and women (particularly mothers of young children), were going to be hit by their plans but failed to ensure that the harm this was going to cause was prevented.”
- The council failed to properly consider the proposal by Greenwich Leisure, a charitable social enterprise, to take over the whole library service whilst largely maintaining the library network.
- If the cuts went ahead, the county council library service would no longer be a comprehensive and efficient library service, as required by the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964.
Paul Heron, a solicitor at Public Interest Lawyers, said: “We hope to convince the court that as a matter of law the county council have not acted correctly in the way they have conducted the consultation process and ignored the wishes of people in Lincolnshire. I would urge all to once again lobby their councillors and ask them not to make these cuts which will devastate the library service if they are carried out.”
Public Interest Lawyers has brought a number of judicial review actions against councils over proposed changes to library provision. Local authorities to have faced legal proceedings include Doncaster, Surrey, Somerset and Gloucestershire.
Cllr Nick Worth, Executive Member for Libraries at Lincolnshire, said the council had only recently received the details of the claim, and was now beginning to consider its response.
He added: “Before the decision was made, the council carried out extensive consultation and thoroughly considered the impact on our residents. So we'll be presenting the strongest possible defence, showing that all the necessary steps needed to make a lawful decision were taken.
"In light of this, it is our intention to continue the implementation of the changes and to work with communities that have expressed an interest in working with us to deliver library services across the county."