Barnet Council has lost £3million in High Court battles with residents since 2011
PUBLISHED: 08:00 18 November 2013
Barnet Council has lost at least £3million in less than three years due to High Court battles with residents and organisations.
Following a Freedom of Information request, the Ham&High can reveal that since January 2011 the council has spent more than £700,000 in legal costs defending judicial reviews of its decisions.
It has spent a further £433,000 settling these High Court challenges.
The council has also footed a £2million bill in parking refunds to residents after it was found to have unlawfully hiked parking charges to pay for other transport projects, following a judicial review brought by resident David Attfield in July.
East Finchley resident Mr Attfield, 46, said: “It’s a real shame. They could have saved a lot of money and a lot of pain for everyone if they had listened to the concerns that were being aired before the parking charge increases were introduced.
“The judicial review system was there for me when it was needed. It allowed me to challenge and overturn a decision by the local authority. But it works in a long and very stressful way.”
The council has faced 37 judicial reviews in the High Court since January 2011.
This included a challenge brought by NHS Brent, which claimed it was providing a service to around 40 people who it argued were Barnet residents.
Barnet Council spent more than £16,000 on lawyers’ fees defending the High Court challenge but eventually settled the case with a payment of £275,000 to NHS Brent.
The council also spent more than £15,000 defending a High Court bid from disabled resident Daniel Coleman to prevent free school Etz Chaim Jewish Primary being built in Mill Hill. Mr Coleman’s challenge was eventually dismissed.
But the largest legal bill settled by the council was incurred from a judicial review of the authority’s controversial One Barnet outsourcing scheme.
The council spent more than £470,000 fighting a High Court bid to topple One Barnet from disabled resident Maria Nash, who claimed the council failed to consult about its plans to outsource a swathe of council services to two private companies.
Ms Nash, 68, whose challenge was eventually defeated by the council, said: “The concern that we have is that the council doesn’t take into consideration the residents and the service users.
“Why don’t they ask us [about their policies] rather than having to spend this huge amount of money? [They are] making money for the legal profession rather than spending it on the people who need it.
“It’s very wasteful and very sad that it has to happen that way. They don’t think their decisions through.”
Barnet Council leader Cllr Richard Cornelius said: “One of the cruel ironies for local government is that the very actions required by councils to make the sorts of savings that we need to make will attract greater legal challenge than in the past, and the costs to the public purse that brings.”
He said it was “very important” residents had the “right to challenge” the council but conceded: “The purpose of judicial review is to make sure that appropriate processes are followed when a decision is reached.
“I am concerned that too many people are using this because they simply don’t like the decision.”
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