Judgement's mixed messages' on Unitary Devon proposal- EDDC

PUBLISHED: 15:44 08 January 2009 | UPDATED: 12:08 17 June 2010

THE LEADER of East Devon District Council says she is mystified by the ruling of a High Court Judge who conducted a Judicial Review into EDDC s challenge to a single Unitary Devon council.

THE LEADER of East Devon District Council says she is "mystified" by the ruling of a High Court Judge who conducted a Judicial Review into EDDC's challenge to a single Unitary Devon council.

Councillor Sara Randall Johnson said the judgement sent out "mixed messages" and hinted that the Council would consider an appeal.

In a ruling handed down today (Thursday 8 January), Mr Justice Cranston:

Found the Boundary Committee had 'misdirected itself' at the very start of the review process

-Felt it did not consult properly on alternatives to its single unitary proposal

-Believed it could also have done better when consulting on affordability

-Agreed that EDDC concerns about democratic remoteness were valid

-Advised that accountants must spend more time on the overall financial impact of any change

-Accepted that this might mean a further period of consultation was necessary

-But the judge also stated that EDDC's challenge was "premature" - suggesting that the Council should have waited longer before challenging the Boundary Committee's actions.

Reacting to the judgement, Miss Randall Johnson said: "I take a lot of comfort from much of what the Judge has said. It is clear that the Boundary Committee got quite a lot wrong. This vindicates our decision to challenge the process they followed. The Judge has stopped short of censuring them and his view that our challenge was premature is, frankly, mystifying.

Misdirected

"If we had waited until the final report had been sent to the Secretary of State, we could well have been deemed to have left our challenge too late. At least this way our concerns have been registered and the Judge has advised the Boundary Committee where he believes they have erred in law".

Miss Randall Johnson was referring to parts of the Judgement where Mr Justice Cranston said the Boundary Committee had "misdirected itself as to what it could publish, consult on and propose to the Secretary of State" and "should consider with care whether it would be right to make further alternative proposals for Devon. He added that, if such a course of action were considered appropriate, the Boundary Committee would need to comply with the statutory requirements - in other words it should carry out further consultation".

She also took heart from the Judge's comment on affordability consultation that "for the future the Boundary Committee may well modify its approach in the light of lessons learnt from the current exercise".

Wrong

Miss Randall Johnson added: "It saddens me that it has taken a challenge from this Council to uncover the fact that the Boundary Committee got it wrong from the start. I can only hope that with those comments ringing in their ears the Boundary Committee will do a proper job in future for the benefit of the whole of Devon.

"The ball is now firmly back in the Boundary Committee's court. They must comply with the wishes of the Court, and they must also follow the latest directives from the Secretary of State regarding looking at matters 'in aggregate'. Either way, they may end up having to consider options other than a single Unitary Devon. If that happens, there could be further delays which might frustrate the Government's wish to rush ahead and implement the changes before the next General Election".

She confirmed that the Council had been given leave to appeal against the judgement and that she and her colleagues were considering this course of action. They have 14 days to submit such an appeal.

Editor's Notes:

Full details of the judgement, once received, can be found at: http://www.eastdevon.gov.uk/

EDDC's application for a Judicial Review was heard on Friday 19 December 2008. The case was heard by Mr Justice Cranston, who had been an MP and Solicitor-General before he became a judge.

Some weeks earlier, Breckland Council in Norfolk had mounted a similar challenge to proposals for that county. That case was also heard by Mr Justice Cranston.

Breckland has lodged an appeal, which will be heard by three Appeal Court Judges in February or March. Any EDDC appeal would be heard in the same way.

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