Moray library protestors begin legal challenge

CAMPAIGNERS fighting to overturn the controversial decision to axe almost half the libraries in Moray have taken the first steps towards mounting a legal challenge against the North east local authority.

Moray Council came under fire over plans to close seven libraries. Picture: Complimentary

It was confirmed last week that Scotland’s equalities watchdog, the Equality and Human Rights Commissioner, will consider a complaint against the planned closure of the seven libraries next month, after being contacted by opposition SNP councillors in Moray.

And the “Save our Libraries Moray”, formed last week to contest the closure decision, today announced that they have already taken legal advice about seeking a judicial review in the Court of Session to challenge Moray Council’s independent and Conservative administration’s decision to close all seven libraries at Rothes, Dufftown, Portknockie, Findochty, Cullen, Burghead, Hopeman plus one of the council’s two mobile units.

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Save our Libraries Moray argue that the council’s decision was in breach of the Equalities Act 2010, in that it failed to take proper account of the adverse impact closure would have on the elderly, people with a disability and families with young children.

But administration leaders have argued that the council had no choice but to press ahead with the closure plans in the face of “frightening budget pressures.” The cuts will save the cash strapped council an estimated £357,000.

Dr Joan Megson, the vice-chair of the campaign group, said: “Moray Council’s decision to go ahead with the closure of seven local libraries and one mobile library caused public outrage throughout the region.

“Communities were left angered and bemused by the decision, taken as it was against the legal advice of council officials and the recommendations contained in an Equalities Impact Assessment, which recommended retention of at least three of the libraries.”

She added: “The group’s short-term aim is to establish if a legal challenge against the decision should be launched, while long-term the group will work within the community to protect and improve library services.”

Alistair Jeffs, the group’s chairman, said the first steps in clarifying the legal position had already been taken. He said: “We have consulted with a local solicitor and established that any challenge to the Moray Council decision would need to be made via a Judicial Review at the Court of Session.

“Details of our complaint has now been passed to advocates who will be in a position to advise us on if in their opinion a Judicial Review stands any chance of succeeding. We will also be informed of the likely costs involved in raising an action in the Court of Session.”

He added: “Clearly we will need to raise our costs through a public appeal and to that end we are asking anyone who might be in a position to support this to contact us.”

Representatives from Save our Libraries Moray will meet with local MP Angus Robertson, and MSP Richard Lochhead, on Friday to update them on their plans.

Speaking ahead of the meeting, Mr Lochhead said: “Closing libraries is the last thing that should be happening in our communities. On the one hand the council says it wants communities to do more but it then decides to close seven major community hubs - which is what our libraries are. How are these two aims remotely compatible?”

Mr Robertson said: “I am looking forward to discussing the next steps to challenge this crazy libraries decision with the local campaigners, who are receiving support from people the length and breadth of the country.

“This is fundamentally about choices. The Tories and Independents in Moray appear to know the cost of everything and the value of nothing. They are making the wrong choices for Moray’s communities because they have no imagination or strategy to find alternative solutions.”