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Battle to save Isle of Wight libraries

Leigh Day instructed by local library users trying to stop library closures

Save Isle of Wight libraries

14 March 2011

Richard Stein and Rosa Curling in the human rights department at Leigh Day & Co have been instructed by a number of local residents who are determined to resist plans to close a number of public libraries on the Isle of Wight and to reduce the opening hours of the remaining libraries.

The Future of the Island’s Library Service

The Isle of Wight council considered this report in cabinet on 1 March 2011.  Following that meeting the council decided to continue to run just six public libraries on the island, and those with reduced hours.  The council is also seeking to devolve responsibility for the island’s libraries to local community bodies.

Our clients’ case is that the resulting library service is not a “comprehensive and efficient library service for all persons desiring to make use thereof” and, once that decision is implemented, the Council will be in breach of its duty under section 7 of the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964.   Our clients further claim that the council has failed to consider its equality duties in particular those in the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and the Sex Discrimination Act 1975.

A report of the Local Public Inquiry into the Wirral Library Service in September 2009 listed a number of indicators that would demonstrate a ‘comprehensive and efficient’ library service.  These included the importance of the library service meeting the specific needs of user groups, such as children, disabled people, unemployed people and older people. 

Government Minister, Ed Vaizey, has written to all councillors reminding them of the conclusions of the report and of some of the key recommendations set out in that report which councils should have in mind when making their spending decisions. 

Public libraries and deprived communities

Our clients note that their has been no analysis of the effect of library closures of areas of greatest deprivation on the island, or the travel and parking costs at alternative libraries for people left without a local branch library. 

The council has also failed to consider the effect on schoolchildren of the planned library closures or any analysis of the use schools make of libraries during the school day. For some school children, the only visit they make to a library will be because of a school visit.

Public sector equality duties

The council appears to have failed in its duty to consider the impact of planned library closures under its statutory obligations, in particular it has failed to assess the impact of library closures on women, older people and disabled people.
Richard Stein and Rosa Curling of Leigh Day said:

“The local authority has a clear duty to provide a “comprehensive and efficient” public library service. It cannot try to negate this duty by suggesting that local communities will take over many of the local libraries. The vague and speculative proposals on such arrangements fail to ensure that a comprehensive and efficient library service will remain on the island.

It is clear that the Council has failed to properly consider the impact their decision will have on almost 20% of the current users who will lose their library service should the decision be implemented. This is unlawful and it is for this reason that our clients have asked us to apply to the High Court to challenge it.”

Legal action to save libraries

Richard Stein and Rosa Curling, solicitors in the human rights department at Leigh Day & Co, have acted for many campaigning groups in bringing judicial reviews against government ministers, local councils, and other public bodies who threaten to close or withdraw essential public services.

Rosa has written a guide, Stand up for your Public Services, which you might find useful if you are planning to campaign to keep your local library open.  Rosa is also happy to speak to groups about possible legal action and the ways in which these can be funded.  Please contact Rosa on 020 7650 1200 if you would like a free consultation on saving your local library from closure.

Information was correct at time of publishing. See terms and conditions for further details.

Information was correct at time of publishing. See terms and conditions for further details.

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  • Save our libraries on the Isle of Wight