WHETHER Moray Council has acted reasonably in its decision to close seven libraries is a matter for the courts, not the Equality and Human Rights Commission, it has ruled.
The Commission met yesterday to consider a complaint from the SNP group about the decision by the Independent-Tory administration to shut the libraries.
That followed a meeting last month when the council voted 13-10 to shut 7 of its 15 libraries and one mobile library in a bid to save £357,000.
An equalities impact assessment produced by council officials had recommended closing only four libraries.
However, the Commission has declared that it is not in a position to judge individual budget decisions made by public authorities.
Said Euan Page, Parliamentary and Government Affairs Manager with the Commission: “Whether an authority has acted reasonably in its decision making is a matter for the Courts rather than the Commission.
“Should those affected by this Council decision have concerns that equality was insufficiently considered or that the Council acted unreasonably, it is open to them to challenge the decision in court through Judicial Review.”
The role of the Equality and Human Rights Commission is to monitor, protect and promote equality and human rights across Scotland.
Public authorities are obliged to consider their equalities duties in the decisions that they make. These duties were introduced by Section 149 of the Equality Act 2010 and the Equality Act 2010 (Specific Duties) (Scotland) Regulations 2012, and provide a valuable and important tool to help ensure fair decision making by public authorities.
The Commission has published extensive guidance on how to meet these duties, including assessing impact and the public sector equality duty and making fair financial decisions.
“In respect of Moray Council’s decision to close library services,” he added, “council officials have produced an apparently comprehensive equality impact assessment and councillors are obliged to take account of this in their decision making.
“Court decisions in England (which are not binding in Scotland but are persuasive) have indicated that decision makers must consider the question of equality “with rigour and an open mind”.
A court could be asked to consider whether the “due regard” that Moray Council requires to give to the three needs of the equality duty has been given:
•Eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation and other prohibited conduct.
•Advance equality of opportunity between people who share a relevant protected characteristic and those who do not.
•Foster good relations between people who share a protected characteristic and those who do not.
Judicial Review has been used in similar circumstances relatively frequently in England, where Court decisions have reached a range of judgements.