The legal battle to quash Northamptonshire County Council’s decision to close 21 of its libraries got under way at Birmingham Administrative court this morning (July 26).
Two different claimants are fighting the decision made by the authority this spring to shut the doors on the majority of its libraries, leaving only 15 remaining for the entire county.
Barrister Stephen Broach, who is representing a young baby from Desborough, put forward the legal argument to Justice Yipp in front of a full courtroom of library campaigners.
The claimant, who cannot be named for legal reasons, and her family want the judge to rule that the decision made by the authority’s full council on February 28 this year and the cabinet decision on March 13 about the libraries budget were unlawful. This would mean the decision to close would no longer stand.
It is not known what the authority, which is in the midst of a huge financial crisis, would choose to do if the judge rules it acted in breach of the law.
The skeleton argument for the Desborough child, put forward to the judge, stated: “The claimant seeks relief in relation to both decisions, such that the defendant is required to reconsider the whole question of its library services provision. CILIP, the specialist library professionals body, gives evidence in support of the claimant and confirms that the defendant’s cuts to services are the most signficant ever seen in an English local authority.
“The closure of most of the county’s libraries will have significant adverse consequences for the claimant and the very many other library users, many of whom are vulnerable.”
The grounds on which the decision is being challenged are that the council did not carry out a lawful consultation and that it breached sections of a number of laws including the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964, The Equality Act 2010, The Children Act 2004 and the Childcare Act 2006.
Mr Broach said the family of the Desborough child’s primary concern is that if the library closed then she would not be able to develop in the way her older siblings have and would be disadvantaged. The court heard that one of the siblings has a reading age five years ahead.
He said the family are frequent users of the library and could not access the alternative provision at Kettering because of the travel costs and difficulty of travelling with a young child.
Witness statements from other Desborough library users were also mentioned including from a local teaching assistant and childminder who use the library.
When asked by the judge what his claimant was seeking to achieve Mr Broach said: “That decisions are retaken. Which means the library will continue in its current form until the decision is retaken.”
In response the judge said she cannot rule that the libraries stay open.
The current plan by NCC is for the libraries to stay open until September 30. All 21 libraries have had community groups come forward to run them independently and a decision will be made by NCC in the coming weeks as to whether that can happen.
John Connolly, a user of St James’ library in Northampton, is the second claimant and his barrister will put forward his case this afternoon. The 20 other threatened libraries come under under this claim.
The barrister acting for NCC will put forward his legal arguments tomorrow. (July 27)
The case continues.
Sarah Ward, Local Democracy Reporter