Thursday, 21 March 2013

One Barnet Judicial Review - Day 3

Mr Mustard, Mr Reasonable, Citizen Barnet, Mrs Angry and Rog T outside the Royal Courts
Today was day 3 of the One Barnet judicial review. Due to a hectic work schedule, I've been unable to attend the first two days, but I wanted to hear the defence from Barnet (I know the details of the challenge pretty well) and I wanted to see how Barnet Council could possibly defend their actions. I probably know more about the history of the project and the sorry tale of non consultations than just about anyone in Barnet, having blogged it since 2008. I have received brown paper envelopes with all manner of documents I'd get sued if I published. I have had strange phonecalls in the night tipping me off about all manner of things and asking me if I'd thought of FoI'ing all manner of questions. I am acutely aware of the complete lack of consultation on the issue and have been as supportive as I could be of the efforts of Maria Nash to bring the judicial review.

I see the role of the Barnet bloggers as primarily one of putting things on the public record that would otherwise be lost. As a result, Maria's legal team have a huge resource to draw on. I am also extremely lucky  that since I started writing this blog, four other bloggers have joined the fray, doing a far better job than me in  recording and analysing what has been going on. We are especially lucky to have John Dix AKA Mr Reasonable, who brings forensic analysis skills to our team. I suppose if you wanted to categorise the style of each of us, I'd be The Sun, Mr Reasonable would be The Financial Times, Mr Mustard would be accountancy weekly, Citizen Barnet would be The Guardian and Mrs Angry would be Mills & Boon !!! (Not really, I just put that in to wind her up, I'd have Mrs A down as Private Eye really). 

Between us, we cover all of the bases pretty well. We have issued many joint blogs and I feel honoured to be part of a very hard working team known as the Barnet bloggers. Now I merely mention all of this to give some background to my feelings listening to the Barnet Council defence. I've published over 3,000 seperate blogs on this site and a huge number of these have in some way, shape or form been related to One Barnet. I have received legal threats over some of the blogs I've published. I've had abusive messages left and I've had  comments about me and my business put on the Hendon Times website. 

So today I actually heard a proper defence of the One Barnet program from a QC paid for with my tax. I did not hear what I expected to hear. I heard that Barnet consider the fact that they mentioned outsourcing on the 900th page of an obscure report to be proof of consultation. I heard that they believed the decision to commit to the outsourcing process was made in March 2011, even though that decision did not rule out an in house bid. They claimed a negative options appraisal amounted to a decision, even though they could not justify this with any document that specifically said this. They claimed that under "section 3" The council only needed to consult to help them make a better decision, missing the fact that

a) The Council are merely there to represent us the taxpayer (ie we are the major stakeholder)
b) Listening to people could only make the decision better
c) Plenty of other legislation imposes the need to consult on them and a sensible council would.

They claimed that they had consulted because they had "residents forums" even though they banned One Barnet as a topic at these meetings.

They claimed they had consulted because groups that were set up to lead the community had been informed of the process.

They claimed that they didn't need to do an equalities Impact Assessment until they "had something to assess" missing the point that they should have built an equalities policy into the whole process. 

They claimed that One Barnet was simply a run of the mill contract tender, like the 9,300 other tenders for things such as who sells the council toilet paper.

During this session the judge repeatedly asked questions which indicated that he was none to impressed with any of these arguments.

At the end of the morning session, I had to leave. I have a new studio opening tomorrow and I'm not rich enough to neglect my business, but I'd heard enough. Whatever happens, it is clear to me that the Council has no consideration for the people who elect it or pay taxes to run it. They think we are an inconvenience and can be ignored. 

As I left I said to Mr Reasonable "I found it hard not to interrupt as she made her case". Mr Reasonable agreed. The judge has said he'll give us his verdict after Easter. I may be wrong, but this must be a positive sign. The strongest defence for the Council was that the argument was out of time (ie the decision was made in March 2011 and the challenge wasn't launched within three months - Maria stated that the substantive decision was made in December 2012). I cannot help but think that if the judge accepted this argument, he wouldn't need more than five minutes to give his verdict and that would be that. Maybe I am deluded. 

If Maria wins her case (as I believe she should in a sane world), I sincerely hope Barnet Council take heed. Should the judge not find in her favour, then I suspect that Capita will find Barnet anything but a benign environment. There was a bloke from Capita sitting next to Mrs Angry during the hearing. At lunch, he told us that if Capita do get the green light, they will regularly invite the bloggers in to discuss progress. This intrigued me. I have continually warned them of the need to take account of local people and suggested that Barnet could be a very hot potato. I may be wrong, but it seems rather interesting that Capita have at least realised that they need to have a strategy to address Barnet bloggers. The penny never dropped for Barnet Council, which is why they have ended up in the High Court. 

One other interesting thing I noted was the body language of the Barnet team (especially the legal team). When I don't understand the detail of a discussion I always immediately start watching for what is called in Poker a "Tell". I can categorically say that the Barnets team were playing a weak hand. Every time the Judge asked a question, if the Barnet Barrister gave a good, confident response which the judge accepted she neglected to do a certain physical action that she did when she took a hit. Having worked out her show, I started counting how many times he did it over the three and a half hours. To spare her blushes, I won't publish this non scientific total, but for me it was rather enlightening. The law is a funny old thing and nothing would surprise me with the verdict. I will say this. What I saw today convinced me that I did the morally correct thing in dedicating the last 4 1/2 years to cataloging this nonsense. 

1 comment:

Mrs Angry said...

What's wrong with Mills & Boon?

But yes, you are right about the body language: whatever the outcome, the Barnet case was a testimony of a failure to consult, and if the case is lost it will, I would predict, only on a technicality - fairly or not - of timing.

We have already been vindicated by a public hearing of everything we have always said about the way in which the One Barnet process has been handled. Our day in court.