For information on the outcome of the Judicial Review, please refer to the Press Release issued by the barristers chambers representing Mr. Williams below.
High Court quashes decision to close Shropshire Library
On 5 April 2016, at the beginning of a three day judicial review hearing into Shropshire council’s decision to close Church Stretton Library, the defendant Council conceded that its decision was unlawful, agreed to quash the closure decision, and to lawfully reconsult.
The challenge to the Council’s decision to close Church Stretton library and relocate it within a local school was brought by local resident and library user Andrew Williams, with the support of Church Stretton Library Support Group (‘CSLSG’).
The Council had worked with the school since early 2014 to come up with a proposal to relocate the Church Stretton library from its current position to the school’s premises. These meetings were almost exclusively between the Council, the school and other community organisations whose interests were intimately bound up with, and served by, the relocation of the library; and about which the general public were not aware. Minutes of the group’s meetings showed that by July 2014 they had dropped the option of the library remaining where it is.
In September 2014, the Council started a ‘community conversation’ in relation to the relocation of the library, following which CSLSG was established to campaign for the library to stay where it is. CSLSG provided a detailed and reasoned proposal to keep the library in its current location, run by members of the public, for the public. The formal consultation period ended in March 2015 following which the Council stuck with its ‘preferred option’ and the decision was taken to close and move the library.
Judicial review proceedings were commenced to challenge the Council’s decision on the basis that it had no proper library policy or strategy as required by section 7 of the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964, and that the consultation was fundamentally unfair due to the Council’s ‘preferred option’ always being its preordained option. It was also later argued that the Council had failed to comply with its duties under the Localism Act 2011.
In August 2015, the High Court granted permission to challenge the decision, and also granted a prohibitory order preventing the Council, the school and other interested parties from taking any further steps to close and relocate the library.
The substantive challenge was scheduled to be heard on 5 April 2016 for three days. However, at the door of the court, the Council accepted that its decision was unlawful and agreed to the decision being quashed. In particular, the Council accepted that it does not have a section 7 PLMA compliant library policy, and that it had not properly considered the Claimant and CSLSG’s proposal under the Localism Act 2011.
The Council has undertaken to faithfully consider any expression of interest the Claimant and CSLSG make under the Localism Act 2011, as well as to lawfully reconsult with the option to keep the library in its current position.
The Claimant was represented by Nicholas Bowen Q.C and Graeme Hall, who were instructed by Michael Imperato, partner at Watkins Gunn Solicitors.