J & Others v Southend Borough Council [2005] EWHC 3457 (Admin)

This was a challenge to Southend Borough Council’s proposal to close a day centre used by the four claimants and other adults with learning disabilities. Many of the service users, for historical reasons, were Essex County Council residents.  Southend decided not to offer places at another of its day centres to the Essex Service users. The claimants, through their litigation friends, challenged the legality of the closure and denial of new services through judicial review proceedings.

Southend submitted that, in making the decision to close the centre, it was implementing recommendations by the Government in the white paper “Valuing People:  a New Strategy for Learning Disability in the 21st Century.” The white paper recommended the closure of large institutional day centres.  The closure was intended to release funds to commission and develop new services to allow service users to develop individual interests or the skills needed to move into employment.  Essex planned to re-assess the needs of its service users as they would exist following the closure.  There was evidence before the court that Essex had acknowledged that “particular regard” had to be paid to the importance of maintaining friendship links.  Southend agreed that no services would be withdrawn until Essex had re-assessed these needs.

The claimants argued that their rights under Article 8 ECHR, the right to respect for private and family life, prevented Southend from proceeding with its closure plans.  They also argued that under Article 8 a public body can be obliged to ensure that disabled people are not deprived of the possibility of developing social relationships with others and thereby developing their own personalities.  R(A,B, X &Y) v East Sussex County Council [2005]

The court was satisfied that Southend’s decision was taken in pursuit of a legitimate aim and that the ECHR had recognised that in areas involving difficult social policy considerations, a public authority was entitled to strike a fair balance without the necessity to consider individual circumstances.  In doing so it had a wide margin of discretion and the court should be slow to interfere with the judgment of a democratically elected authority about how best to manage its resources.  Reasonable steps were being taken to minimise the impact of any interference with the claimants’ private lives and therefore it could not be said that Southend’s decision to close, if it was an interference with the claimants’ rights, was disproportionate.

Application dismissed

Comment

As long as local authorities took “due account” of service users’ Article 8 rights (such as the maintenance of social links and personal relationships) when reconfiguring services, it is unlikely that it would be acting unlawfully. Article 8(1) is a qualified right and interference with an individual’s rights may be justified in certain circumstances, set out in Article 8(2), if the interference is proportionate in the circumstances.

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