Law firm in landmark schools court case win | 15 February 11

LAW firm Ward Hadaway has helped a local authority secure a landmark victory over the Government on its spending cuts programme.

Solicitors from Ward Hadaway advised Nottingham City Council on its successful application for a judicial review of the decision by Education Secretary Michael Gove to terminate the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme.

Mr Gove’s decision taken last July effectively stopped the building of around £96m worth of new schools in Nottingham, as well as hundreds of millions of pounds worth of other facilities across the country.

Along with five other local authorities, Nottingham City Council started legal action against the Education Secretary, arguing that he had not properly consulted the council on the decision to stop the school building programme and had not taken into account the effect of the decision on equal opportunities.

Karen Andrews, partner in the public sector team at Ward Hadaway, and Robert Glassford, partner in the commercial litigation team at the firm, led Ward Hadaway’s team advising Nottingham City Council on its application for a judicial review of the decision.

On Friday 11 February, Mr Justice Holman ruled that the Education Secretary had unlawfully failed to consult the council and five other local authorities before imposing the cuts.

In Nottingham City Council’s case and four of the other five council cases, the judge said this failure was "so unfair as to amount to an abuse of power".

Mr Justice Holman ordered Mr Gove to reconsider the decision after properly consulting the councils.

Robert Glassford said: “This is a case of national interest and one of the most significant judicial reviews in recent times, since it was a test of the Government’s decision-making process in regard to its Spending Review and cost cuts to the public sector.

“We were naturally delighted at the ruling from Mr Justice Holman that the Education Secretary’s decision to stop the Nottingham City Council BSF programme was unlawful.

“It has always been the position of our client Nottingham City Council that the way in which this decision was reached without any consultation with the Council and with no regard to the decision’s impact on equality issues was entirely wrong and this has been borne out in this judgment.

“While Mr Justice Holman’s ruling does not guarantee that the school building plan will go ahead as originally planned, it does mean that Nottingham City Council will have the chance to be heard and to put its case for continuing its BSF programme directly to the Education Secretary.

“This is a very important point and one which the Council was determined to have decided.”

Commentators on the case agree that it has potentially widespread significance for the way in which the Government carries out its programme of reducing public spending.

Legal experts have said the ruling in the case means that other groups affected by spending cuts could now be encouraged to apply for a judicial review if they believe they have not been adequately consulted.

Karen Andrews, partner in the public sector team at Ward Hadaway, said: “There is no doubt that this is a highly significant case which I am sure a lot of local authorities and other organisations will be taking note of.

“It took a lot of courage from Nottingham City Council and the other authorities who pursued this action to take on the Government in this way, but they believed it was right to do so, not only for the principles at stake but also for the future of their school children.

“As well as a lot of dedicated work from the team at Ward Hadaway on preparing the case for a judicial review for Nottingham City Council, the action also involved a lot of co-operation between the legal representatives of all the councils involved so that we could present a united front and a strong combined case to the court.”

Ward Hadaway, which has offices in Newcastle, Leeds and Manchester, instructed Richard Drabble QC and Daniel Kolinsky of Landmark Chambers for the case.

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