High Court rules that the abolition of two parish councils was unlawful

17 Apr 2019

Public Law and Judicial Review

R (Britwell Parish Council) v Slough BC; R (Wexham Court Parish Council) v Slough BC [2019] EWHC 998 (Admin)
Community governance review – decision to abolish two parish councils – duty to have regard to policy – interpretation – rationality

Mr Justice Lewis has upheld a challenge to the decision of Slough Borough Council (“SBC”) to abolish two of the parish councils in its area.

In 2018 SBC carried out a community governance review of the three parish councils in the borough under the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007, having conducted a similar review in 2013. Following consultation with interested parties and a postal poll of local electors, SBC resolved to abolish two of the parish councils – Britwell PC and Wexham Court PC – with effect from 1 April 2019. Statutory guidance issued by the Secretary of State made clear that the abolition of a parish council was exceptional and should not be pursued unless there was clear and sustained local support for such action. SBC considered that there was clear and sustained local support for abolition, notwithstanding that the majority of electors in each parish who had responded to the postal poll were opposed to abolition.

The judge held that SBC had misinterpreted the guidance. It had taken the view that provided a significant number of local people support abolition that is sufficient to satisfy the need for clear and sustained local support irrespective of whether, overall, local opinion favours retention not abolition of the parish council. The judge said: “In my judgment, paragraph 120 of the Guidance is not seeking to establish whether a minimum threshold of support for abolition can be established. The Guidance is seeking to establish whether, over a sustained period, local opinion broadly supports the abolition of the parish council. That conclusion is reinforced by, but not dependent upon, the opening words which indicate that it is only exceptionally that such a course of action would be appropriate. That is why there must be clear evidence that the abolition is justified and clear and sustained local support for abolition” (para 40 of the judgment).

As the decision to abolish each parish council was influenced by this error, the judge quashed the decisions.

Robin Green acted for both parish councils.

You can read the judgment here.