High Court orders judicial review of Greenwich law centre cut

To the High Court yesterday, where a judge backed a case brought by Greenwich Community Law Centre for a judicial review into the tendering process that led to it losing its grants.

The centre, on Trafalgar Road, lost its funding on 11 November following a vote taken by the council’s cabinet last month.

But the centre is challenging the way the decision was taken, arguing the timetable put in place by the council meant it was not possible to hand over cases to other agencies. It also says the decision was made without an assessment on equality in the borough, or the risks involved.

It lost its funding after failing to meet a deadline set by the council for submitting bids. However, it argues that council officers gave conflicting dates as when that deadline actually was.

The hearing largely relied on bundles of evidence presented to Deputy High Court Judge Ingrid Simler QC, with counsel for the law centre and for Greenwich briefly arguing their cases before a short judgment was made.

Tellingly, though, Greenwich wanted the case struck out because the decision not to fund the law centre was made by officers on in early August, and not by cabinet members in September (and again in October during a “call-in” hearing), arguing that the law centre’s claim was now “out of time” as it was over three months since the officers’ decision had been made.

But the law centre had argued that it had been told that proceedings could not have been brought until a final decision was made by the cabinet or the call-in process – and even Mrs Justice Simler said that Greenwich’s counsel “appeared to submit that the call-in process was a foregone conclusion”.

It doesn’t seem particularly encouraging for democracy in Greenwich when the council’s own barrister argues that its cabinet members’ decisions can be predicted in advance.

One bright spot for the council – and its taxpayers – was that the judge did not order Greenwich to continue funding the centre, whose counsel said it could continue in operation until the end of the year. It is apparently still receiving referrals from other centres, which are struggling to adapt to the new arrangements.

It’s thought the judicial review could set the council back £30,000, as well as the cost of seeing what appears to have been a poorly-run process laid open before the courts. Unless a settlement is agreed before then, a two-day hearing is due to take place by the end of December.

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