Judge puts library cuts back on shelf

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The Independent Online

A High Court judge has ruled proposed library closures in Somerset and Gloucestershire are "unlawful", reversing the decision to close them and creating fresh hope for those seeking to challenge library service cutbacks nationwide.

Yesterday Judge Martin McKenna, at London's High Court, said the planned closure of 21 libraries in the two counties did not comply with "public sector equality duties". Campaigners claimed shutting libraries would disproportionately affect those living in vulnerable communities, and was therefore unlawful.

"The judge refused to say that the implications of this are limited to one or two local authorities," said Daniel Carey, of Public Interest Lawyers, the solicitor representing the campaigners. "He said that by saying that it would send the wrong message to other local authorities considering similar cuts."

Mr Carey continued: "All local and national authorities should take heed of the need to eliminate discrimination. If a council cuts its library provision it'll have a disproportionate effect on the elderly and disabled."

Campaigners also argued that the two councils had to provide a "comprehensive and efficient" library service because of the 1964 Museums Act. But Pete Bungard, chief executive of Gloucestershire County Council, said: "We have a priority to protect services for vulnerable people and to do that we have to reduce our spending and that means libraries taking some of the burden."