Victorious council slams charities that took it to judicial review

Cumbria County Council has criticised charities for refusing to back down from a High Court challenge after it emerged it had cost the authority more than £25,000 to defend the case.

The council was taken to a judicial review by an Age Concern South Lakeland service user over the authority’s decision to introduce means-tested charges for day-care services.

The service user claimed the decision was unlawful because insufficient consultation had taken place. The case could have paved the way for charities to take legal action against public bodies that flout the Compact (Third Sector, 12 September).

The county council won the case, but a freedom of information request submitted by Third Sector revealed that it cost the authority £25,140 to fight the case.

In its written response to Third Sector, the council criticised Age Concern for not dropping the case in July after it carried out further consultation. “Given the final outcome, the council could have been saved the major part of these costs had proceedings been withdrawn by Age Concern in July,” the letter said.

A council spokesman said: “We were disappointed that those who supported the judicial review chose to take it to its conclusion even after it became clear that the council’s additional consultation and full council vote in the summer had addressed any perceived shortcomings in the earlier process.”

Introducing the charges would bring in an additional £700,000 a year that would be used to fund extra services for older people, he added.

“This decision to pursue the legal route to its conclusion necessarily meant that money the council could have spent on services for older people had instead to be used for legal defence costs,” he added.

Sonia Mangan, director of Age Concern South Lakeland, said she was horrified at the council’s stance. She said the judge made it clear he thought it was reasonable to bring the case to trial.

“He noted that issuing the case had served its purpose because it forced the council to carry out a further, fuller consultation process,” she said. “The case also recognised that individual service users could bring challenges even if they might not be directly affected by a decision. We would be surprised if the council was not insured to cover such legal costs.”

Louise Whitfield, project solicitor at legal charity the Public Law Project, which supported the case, said the council made no moves to settle the case. “The subsequent consultation was still not adequate and the claimant was justified in pursuing her claim to trial,” she said. “That was clear from a number of comments the judge made.

“It was a finely balanced case and the council did not make any offer to settle. The council did not seek any views as to how the consultation should take place.”

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