I am truly shocked by a comment made by the Deputy Leader of Barnet Council, Councillor Daniel Thomas. He has stated on the BBC website " while it is right these decisions should be open to scrutiny, it is ultimately the taxpayer who bears the financial brunt of these legal challenges." http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-21828852. I cannot believe the arrogance of the man. Does he not know the process to get legal aid? You have to make a case that shows that the challenge you are bringing has a reasonable chance of success. This alone should have rung alarm bells in the Barnet Council legal department. Any bills the taxpayer has to pick up are due to nothing more than the Council not conducting its business in an open and transparent manner. There are only two possible outcomes to the challenge mounted by Maria Nash. They are
1. The Judge rejects Maria Nash's challenge
2. The Judge accepts the case made by Maria's lawyers, either partially or fully.
If the first of these two options occurs, then the council may have proven the point of law. That does not mean that they have done things in a transparent and open manner. If they had, then the legal aid panel would have completely rejected Maria's claim for legal aid. In short, they have laid themselves open for this type of challenge. I was not at court, but from the various pieces of information fed back to me, the Council have used all manner of arguments to try and prove they consulted with people, without ever having put any hard evidence to back up the project in front of the people of Barnet. Indeed when I published a leaked document on the subject, the council forced me to remove it under threat of legal action. They were so scared that people would see the extent of the problems with One Barnet, they had to resort to the law themselves. I spoke to an employee of one of the contractors, who felt that Barnet were making a rod for their own back, instigating excessive secrecy, which the contractors were not really that bothered about. They did not want sensitive financial information about their individual bids leaking out, but the level of the secrecy was ridiculous. Had Barnet followed the best practices for transparent local government, they would not be in this pickle.
The second outcome, whereby Maria wins, would show that Barnet had broken the rules. That is why we have the law. If you don't follow it and you lose, you have no one to blame but yourself. The only sad thing is that if this does happen, Councillor Thomas will have wasted my money in the process. What the Council should (but undoubtedly won't) face up to, is the fact that some of us have been telling them for years that this is how it was likely to end.
I think Councillor Thomas has been very misguided to issue such an arrogant statement to the BBC in advance of the verdict. If the Judge accepts Maria's argument, that means Barnet have not acted in a legal manner. At the very least, he should have awaited a judgement before putting the boot into a frail old lady. As he "graciously" conceded, Maria has every right to mount the challenge. Where he was wrong and arrogant was to put all the blame for wasting taxpayers money on her doorstep. Whatever happens, his administration has to take responsibility for what has happened. Sadly it seems this hasn't really dawned on him yet.