A High Court judge has ruled that Surrey County Council’s decision to replace all paid staff with volunteers at 10 community libraries was unlawful.
Mr Justice Wilkie ruled today that the council had not given due consideration to the impact of the decision on vulnerable groups such as children, elderly people and disabled people when it made the decision to support the plan in September last year.
Under the Equality Act 2010, the council was required to consider how its proposals would affect the accessibility of libraries to these "protected groups".
A spokesman for the council said, however, that the plans could still be introduced. "There is nothing in today’s ruling that suggests we can’t go ahead with the plans," he said. "It is based on a technicality, which is that when the councillors made the decision they did not have an equalities impact assessment in front of them, and they should have."
Under the plan, said the spokesman, staff at 10 libraries in the county would be "redeployed and retrained" to work at other libraries in the area, and the libraries would be run by volunteers. He said the council could not rule out redundancies but would avoid this wherever possible.
At another hearing, expected to be held in May, Mr Justice Wilkie will decide whether to quash the council’s decision. If he does do so, councillors will have to decide again whether to proceed with the plan, having seen an assessment of its potential impact on vulnerable groups.
The judgment came in response to a judicial review brought by two local residents, Lucy Williams and Nicholas Dorrington, who were represented by the law firm Public Interest Lawyers.
Williams said in a statement: "Libraries are such an important part of local communities and for Surrey County Council to remove funding for library staff would have had a terrible impact on the local area."