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Court Of Appeal Victory Confirms Shropshire Day Centre Closure Was Unlawful

Lawyers Say Landmark Decision On Council Consultation Will Have Impact Across The Country


Dave Grimshaw, Press Officer | 0114 274 4397

Specialist Lawyers at Irwin Mitchell representing Shropshire residents fighting to save several disabled adult day care centres from closure say a Court of Appeal ruling handed down in their client’s favour today (4 April 2014) is a landmark decision which will protect day centre users’ rights across the country.

Shropshire Council announced last year that it planned to close or redesign all 17 day care centres in the region, including Hartleys in Shrewsbury, but users of the services said they had received no information about the proposals and only heard about the decision to close the centres via the local media.

A woman with learning difficulties who uses the facilities, known only as LH, and her family, instructed specialist lawyers at Irwin Mitchell to challenge the decision as they sought to save Hartleys and the other centres. Hartleys was closed before the Court of Appeal hearing but 15 of the original 17 centres remain open. 

An earlier High Court decision sided with the Council but the residents of Shropshire persisted and three senior judges in the Court of Appeal have today unanimously overturned the ruling confirming that the closure of Hartleys was unlawful as the Council had failed to properly consult local people about its proposal. All three Court of Appeal judges were in agreement and made clear in their judgment that those persons affected must be consulted before any future closures.

Expert public lawyers at Irwin Mitchell who represented the vulnerable service users say the decision will have implications for council’s across the country which are looking to make cuts to similar services and the decision is expected to impact upon the proposed closure of a range of other services run by Councils.

Alex Rook, a Partner at Irwin Mitchell who represented LH who brought the judicial review, said:

Expert Opinion
This is a very important judgment not just in Shropshire, where it means that there would need to be a proper consultation before any of the remaining 15 centres could be considered for closure but also across the country where councils will be examining the requirements regarding public consultations very carefully.

“In Shropshire, the Court of Appeal decided that because Hartleys Day Centre has been closed now for over four months, it wouldn’t make sense to require it to reopen now, but the court also made clear that what the council did was unlawful, and that any attempt to close any other day centre will require proper consultation which was absent here.

“The judgment also provides much needed legal clarity at a time when many council’s are being forced into making cuts to services. There is a need for clear, well informed decision-making when assessing potentially adverse impacts on some of the most vulnerable members of society. This is particularly important in the current economic climate and applies not just to day centres but many other vital services provide by local authorities and the NHS that are facing cuts and possible closure. The judgement highlights the fact that it is for the courts to decide what is fair in relation to public consultations, not the local authority involved.”
Alex Rook, Partner

Alex Rook added that the judgment means that any future decision by any council to close a particular service such as a day centre or a residential care home will require that:
• The people affected – users, family, staff etc - should know about the specific proposal well before the final decision, and the reasons for it
• They should have a reasonable time to put their views across;
• The responses should be carefully considered before any decision is reached; and
• Failure to do this will mean that the decision is unlawful. 

In the judgment Lord Justice Longmore, giving the lead judgment, says: “The Council failed to consult the users of Hartleys Day Centre and their carers before deciding to close the centre.”

He adds: “The obligation to consult stems from the expectation that a public body (such as a local authority) making decisions affecting the public will act fairly.  If therefore a local authority withdraws a benefit previously afforded to the public, it will usually be under an obligation to consult with the beneficiaries of that service before withdrawing it.”

Hartley’s Day Centre was originally due to close on 5 November 2013 but Irwin Mitchell secured an agreement that the council would keep it open until a High Court hearing in December. It has since closed but Irwin Mitchell and their clients asked the court to force the Council to think again and consult properly about the remaining 15 day care centres before any of those face closure.

Local resident LH, aged 63, requires constant supervision and lives with her sister JH who cares for her in Shropshire. She attended Hartleys Day Centre in Shrewsbury, Shropshire for over 11 years.

LH attended Hartley’s for four days per week until January 2013 when her care package was altered to two days at Hartley’s with other placements at other centres. LH was not told at this time that Hartley’s was facing closure. LH herself often refuses to go to other day centres, putting extra pressure on her sister JH with whom she lives and on the rest of the family.

JH said: “This a massive relief for people using day care centres across Shropshire. Sadly we have already lost one centre in Hartleys, but hopefully now the users of the centres will be consulted on the best way forward, and the council will think again about re-opening Sabrina Court day centre. We only heard about the closure via the local media and had no chance to let people know what we thought.
“My sister is a vulnerable adult and changing her routine has a major impact on her life. She has built up a trust with the staff and her friends all attended Hartleys.  She is now having to start all over again after making such good progress. It is really difficult for her and others who are affected but hopefully now our voices will be heard.”

Rossanna Trudgian, Head of Campaigns at Mencap, the learning disability charity which supports the legal action said: “Mencap welcomes the judgment on Shropshire Council’s decision affecting day centres across the region. Cuts to day services up and down the country have meant 1 in 4 people with a learning disability spend less than an hour a day outside their home. Day centres plays a huge role in the lives of people with a learning disability, helping them to engage with their wider community and prevent themselves from being stuck in their homes and becoming isolated.

“It is vital that people with a learning disability have meaningful things to do in the day. Too often day services close without any robust alternatives being in place.  We have campaigned against cuts to day services but many councils are still going ahead and closing them. We would hope this judgment encourages other councils to understand how vital it is to consult properly and protect good quality day services, which are valued by the local community, when making spending cuts.”

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