High Court clarifies the meaning of children's centre legislation

On 12 July 2019, following a two day substantive hearing, Mrs Justice Andrews dismissed a claim for judicial review in respect of the decision by Buckinghamshire County Council ("BCC") to close 19 of its 35 existing children's centres.

On the question of consultation, Andrews J held that the duty to consult in s.5D of the Childcare Act 2006 did not require consultation on the "in principle" decision whether to make changes to the existing provision of children's centres (as opposed to how to make such changes). Further, even if it did, there was no requirement to consult on maintaining the status quo as long as BCC had not closed its mind on this issue. On the facts Andrews J found that this was not the case. Even though BCC's consultation documents explained that maintaining the status quo had been "ruled out", Andrews J considered that this referred to eliminating the status quo as an option to be expressly consulted on rather than any indication that the issue had been predetermined.

The other primary ground of challenge concerned the alleged failure by BCC to comply with the sufficiency duty in s.5A of the Childcare Act 2006 which requires "sufficient provision of children's centres to meet local need". Andrews J held that although there was no express indication in BCC's decision-making documentation of the way in which the s.5A duty had been applied, the duty had been discharged in substance. This was because "consideration of sufficiency to meet local need was pervasive through every stage of the decision-making process."

The Claimant has sought permission to appeal.

Fenella Morris QC and Stephen Broach acted for the Claimant at the substantive hearing. Stephen Broach and Katherine Barnes appeared at the permission hearing. The Claimant's counsel team was instructed by James Betts at Irwin Mitchell.

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