The fight to save 21 Northamptonshire libraries has reached the High Court after a young girl applied for a judicial review against the county council.
Specialist lawyers from Irwin Mitchell - who represent the girl, who is their client, and her family - had previously written to Northamptonshire County Council both before and after its final decision was made at the end of February, urging it not to close the libraries, or potentially face a judicial review in the High Court.
The council announced its final decision to close the 21 libraries as part of a cost-cutting exercise, with the authority anticipating that closing them will reduce council expenditure.
The local authority has not agreed to review or revise its decision and therefore judicial review proceedings were issued at the High Court in London on March 29.
Caroline Barrett, a specialist lawyer for Irwin Mitchell representing the family, which cannot be named for legal reasons, said: “We have been instructed to act on behalf of a minor and their family as they seek to challenge Northamptonshire County Council’s decision to shut 21 libraries across the county.
“Many people using the library services are children, or are elderly, disabled, or from low-income households and they may struggle to access the library provision in larger towns.
“These cuts are extensive and our client is concerned that this will have a very significant impact upon their ability to access a library service and the impact on local residents, many of whom live in rural areas. Our clients believe that, if implemented, these cuts will have a huge, detrimental impact on the local community in Northamptonshire.
“We have lodged an application with the High Court for a judicial review and an urgent hearing. Our client considers that the council failed to carry out a lawful public consultation into the proposals and has not conducted a full and lawful assessment of how vulnerable people will be affected.
“Further, the council has not considered how to promote and safeguard the welfare of local children, has not taken into account various factors that should have impacted upon its decision, and has failed to comply with its duty to ensure there is a comprehensive library service in the county. All councils must comply with this duty, and our client considers that a closure of over half the county’s libraries will not result in a comprehensive library service.”
The legal action is the third of its kind after Desborough Library and Watkins & Gunn, acting for 20 libraries, lodged their applications.
A government inspection has already been launched into the closures.
A Northamptonshire County Council spokesman said: “Our review of the library service in Northamptonshire was a necessary element of our budget-setting process for 2018/19 given the severe financial pressures the authority is facing, and is a service many other local authorities across the country have already reviewed.
“When we launched our library service review last October, we presented three options we believe each presented a comprehensive and efficient library service. These options carefully took account of value for money, geographical coverage, areas of need, usage and trends, accessibility, income generation, use of space and suitability of library premises for future development.
“As part of the decision-making process, we held a full and open 12-week consultation, during which we received feedback from more than 5,000 people, and we published Equality Impact Assessments for each individual library to consider the impact of the proposed changes.
“We will be defending the legal challenges lodged.”
In March, the Government’s culture secretary Matt Hancock announced he was considering an inquiry into the decision following a complaint from Cilip, the leading professional body for librarians.
According to Cilip, the council’s plan would leave the county with 15 libraries, eight large and seven medium branches. This would equate to one library for every 60,000 residents, which is significantly greater than the European average of one library for every 16,000 residents.
The family that is being represented by Irwin Mitchell make extensive use of one of the 21 libraries set to close, attending playgroups and children’s centre activities.
The girl's mother, who is also her daughter's litigation friend ( said: “These cuts are not fair. They will have 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. 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.
“I appreciate the council is in a difficult financial position but I do not think the impact of these cuts have been properly considered by the council, and the effect that this will have on local communities.”