Outcome of the hearing on 24 April 2012 at the High Court
Mr. Justice Foskett, a High Court Judge, gave a clear decision in favour of South Manchester Law Centre on the 24th, granting permission to the Centre to claim judicial review of the Manchester City Council’s failure to fund (or give a clear reason for not funding) their services since October 2010.
In his judgment, the Judge noted the services of the Law Centre for 35 years and the praise which had been heaped on these services, nationally and locally. There was no reason to doubt these.
He also noted that decisions will never be well received by those supporting long established services and that decisions cannot be made by a simple count of heads in the court (there were over 130 people packed into Court 45 of Manchester’s Civil Justice Centre to demonstrate their support for the Law Centre).
But then he said that his task was simply to say if the grounds were arguable. He explained this to those attending very clearly. He noted that the Law Centre had been encouraged by the Council to put in a “business plan” in September 2010 which the Council did not say at any time that it was not going to fund – until October 2011 when, after the pressure of local councillors, the leading councillor in charge of adult services said there was no money. The Judge said it was indeed arguable that the process had not made clear at any stage that the true position had been that the Law Centre would not be funded.
In the words of Mr George Brown from Kenworthy’s chambers, appearing “pro bono” on behalf of the Law Centre, they had been strung along without a decision until the last minute – when they were told that a decision had been made a year earlier. It was not fair.
The Judge continued by saying that the publicly available documents did not refer to the Law Centre at all. Put together with the sequence of emails between the Centre and the Council, encouraging the Centre to continue to provide information further to their Business Plan, the Law Centre was not treated fairly.
Until someone knows that there is a decision against them, they cannot do anything about it. Perfectly reasonable correspondence from the Law Centre in November 2011 received no reply at all from the Council. The Centre requested details of meetings at which decisions had been made not to support the Law Centre’s business plan because it may have been superseded by budget cuts. There had been no reply to these requests at all. There still hasn’t.
The Law Centre had also asked for information of funding for the following year. Again, no reply was received from the Council.
The Council will now be required to file information with candour. This includes details of the funding process. The Court is there to ensure a proper process and to see that it is fair and lawful.
Permission to claim judicial review was granted to the Law Centre.
The Law Centre has now won two judicial review hearings, against the Legal Services Commission and the Manchester Council, to try to ensure that it can continue to provide free high quality legal advice to local residents in need. It should not have been necessary to take legal proceedings to get to this point. But the Centre has won both.