Brent Council discriminated against Asians when it closed six libraries, court hears

Appeal hearing expected to finish today

Brent Council indirectly discriminated against the Asian community when it decided to close six libraries, the Court of Appeal heard yesterday.

Ms Dinah Rose QC, representing the library campaigners, said the council paid no regard to the question of whether the closure of six libraries would give rise to any risk of indirect discrimination which therefore broke section 149 of the Equality Act.

According to Ms Rose, Asian people were more likely to use the closed libraries.

Twenty eight per cent of Brent’s borough is Asian, but 46 per cent of active borrowers at its libraries are Asian.

“The reasons why Asians were particularly heavy users of libraries were never considered or investigated,” she said. Ms Dinah Rose presented two maps before the three judges, Lord Justice Pill, Lord Justice Richards and Lord Justice Davies, which were printed off the council’s own website.

Using the maps she argued that by closing libraries in certain wards, the Asian community would be put at a disadvantage and therefore discriminated against.

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She said: “We recognise these very real, economic difficulties that are faced by the country as a whole.

“These are hard choices to be made. But it is my submission that there was significant risk that this policy would give rise to indirect discrimination to Asians.”

She added: “Parliament requires a public authority such as the council, which has a considerable amount of power to affect the lives and opportunities of the individuals who live in its area, to consider whether the policies will bear particularly harshly on particular vulnerable or minority groups.

“Asian and non-Asian residents all contribute to the local authority’s budget by payment of the council tax. But it is potentially discriminatory for the local authority to target cuts for services which are disproportionately heavily used by Asians.”

Despite 82 per cent of respondents who took part in a council consultation saying they were against the closures, town hall chiefs declared the libraries would close.

Campaigners then set up an umbrella group called Brent SOS Libraries and took the case to the Royal Courts of Justice in July where they argued the consultation was flawed.

However, last month Mr Justice Ouseley ruled in favour of the council and the six branches were closed immediately.

Undeterred by the outcome, the case was brought to the Court of Appeal and the hearing is expected to finish today.

The branches which have closed are Barham Park, Cricklewood, Kensal Rise, Neasden, Preston and Tokyngton. The move will save the council �1 million.