Surrey County Council fail to overturn court order

Surrey County Council failed to have an injunction revoked which puts a halt on its plans to run ten local libraries voluntarily.

Surrey County Council asked the High Court to reverse a temporary order blocking plans for some libraries to be run by volunteers but the Court upheld its earlier decision to impose a temporary order.

The order prevents the council from taking any ‘irrevocable action’ towards creating community libraries ahead of a judicial review of the council’s plans.

Under Surrey’s current plans, communities will take over the day-to-day running of 10 libraries while the county council continues to provide everything else, including the building, stock and computer equipment.

The case ended up in the High Court after opposition movement, Surrey Libraries Action Movement (SLAM) started legal proceedings.

Lee Godfrey, press officer for SLAM said: “We are very pleased indeed with yesterday’s outcome. Surrey County Council will now have to move on from their spurious technical challenges, which the High Court Judge has now dismissed, and face the merits of the case being made against them at a full Judicial Review.

“Surrey County Council have now lost on every single point they have brought before the court, or have contested, on a number of occasions, and we are saying that it is now time that Surrey County Council saw the writing on the wall and stopped their plans before wasting any more taxpayers’ money on expensive legal action which they look very likely to lose.”

Surrey County Council attempted to have the whole case dismissed because they regarded the legal proceedings as issued “out of time”, or in any case, because they were not issued promptly.

However Judge Thornton QC ruled that the claim was not “out of time” and commended SLAM for its commitment and dedication in getting to this stage, recognising the hard work that SLAM members must have been through to bring to the attention of the Court this “potential misuse of power”.

Judge Thornton, having considered in great detail the merits of the case (during a four and a half hour hearing), and having decided that there was no obvious weakness in the claim, granted permission for a full judicial review of Surrey County Council’s library decision making process, to be conducted in the week beginning 22nd February.

The temporary order will remain in place until the judicial review is completed.

Surrey County Council attempted to get the injunction overturned but the Judge ruled that the injunction should not be overturned but that it should be amended to clarify its meaning.

Counsels on both sides will now agree the wording of the injunction early next week.

The court did rule that Byfleet, which is due to launch as a community library today, could still go ahead with the plans.

Although the county council is disappointed with the ruling it believes this is not the end of the fight.

“It’s important to say that the court has not passed judgement on our plans. This is just an order halting the process ahead of a hearing to look into our proposals,” said Denise Saliagopoulos, Surrey County Council’s Cabinet Member for Community Services and the 2012 Games.

“From the start we’ve been determined to try and keep all 52 of Surrey’s libraries open while branches are closing elsewhere in the country.

“The good news is that volunteers at Byfleet can go ahead with their plans, but overall we’re disappointed by the court’s decisions. It is a particular shame for those volunteers who were looking forward to launching their own community-run libraries.

“Inevitably people’s opinions about our plans have varied but we’ve been hugely encouraged by the support we’ve received from people who understand we are trying to do what is best for Surrey’s libraries.”

The 10 smaller libraries targetted account for 7 per cent of all Surrey library usage.

The county council asserts that it understands these libraries are important to their communities, and has been working hard to safeguard their futures as community-run branches.

The plans to cut budgets on these libraries mean resources will be focused on Surrey’s other libraries and invested in the latest technology to make the service even better. However, Lee Godfrey believes that the remaining community-led libraries are examples of unsustainable models which will not last and will damage communities in the long-term.

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