In a test case, Mr Justice Popplewell ruled that people adversely affected by council decisions had no common law right to consultation.
The judge said local councillors were democratically elected to represent the views of their constituents. 'It would cause administrative chaos if, before any decision, those adversely affected were required to be consulted.'
The judge rejected applications for judicial review brought by residents of four homes in Devon and Co Durham. He ruled that, in any event, this was an 'inappropriate remedy' as residents had a right to complain to Virginia Bottomley, the Secretary of State for Health, over any alleged unfairness. The residents are considering whether to appeal against the decision to the Court of Appeal or take their case to Mrs Bottomley.
Devon County Council decided last October to close nine residential homes. In Durham, eight homes were earmarked for closure in January after the council concluded, taking independent homes into account, that there was a surplus.
Anthony Bradley, counsel for the residents, said the case was important for all 100,000 elderly people living in council-owned residential homes throughout England and Wales.
Government policy changes, favouring voluntary and private sector homes while hitting funding for local authority homes, had led to many council establishments being closed.
The charity Age Concern was 'extremely disappointed' at the outcome. Sally Greengross, director of Age Concern (England), said: 'Clarification of the rights of older people who live in local authority homes should be made as soon as possible.'