Consultation and the closure of day centres – R (AA) v Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council [2019] EWHC 3529 (Admin)

Mrs Justice Jefford has handed down judgment in the case of R (AA) v Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council [2019] EWHC 3529 (Admin), a challenge to Rotherham MBC's decision, following two consultations, to close a day centre for adults with learning disabilities. The claim was directed against the second of the two consultations.

Permission had been granted for two grounds of challenge: (i) that the consultation did not offer consultees the opportunity to make intelligent and informed comment on the Council's proposals; (ii) that the Council failed conscientiously to consider the outcome. On the first ground, it was argued that the Council unlawfully failed to consult on a hybrid option/middle way between keeping the day centre open and closing it. On the second, the Claimant argued that the relevant officer's report and a consultation summary were misleading on the extent of opposition to closure, and that this was not cured by the presence of a detailed consultation document prepared by an external organisation.

Mrs Justice Jefford dismissed the claim following a two-day hearing.

On the first ground, the judge held that (i) this was not a case in which fairness required consultation on the alternative options suggested by the Claimant; (ii) the Council's preferred option of closure was put forward following a lengthy sequence of events, in which there had been an open discussion on the future of provision; (iii) considerable care was taken in formulating the consultation, including the questionnaires, which invited views on an alternative rather than cutting them off. The consultation itself had to be considered in the context of what came before it, a long period of engagement prior to the shorter period of the second consultation itself.

As for the second ground, the judge considered the issue to be finely balanced. The body of the officer's report and the consultation summary failed truly to reflect the outcome of the consultation. However, opposition to potential closure had been made clear throughout the process, and it could be inferred that Cabinet members conscientiously considered the detailed consultation report, which fairly reflected the outcome.

The judgment is available here.

Tom Tabori appeared for the claimant, led by Jamie Burton of Doughty Street Chambers; Jenni Richards QC and Adam Boukraa appeared for the defendant