For those not on our email list or following us on Facebook, you may not have heard that, we made the difficult decision to withdraw our current Judicial Review petition before the Protected Expenses Order Hearing.
We had been told we had a good case from our lawyers and had agreement from the Friends group to proceed to PEO stage to get a protected expenses order. We did not have agreement to proceed without a Protected Expenses Order.
The Judicial Review case was that the Councillors had available information not made available to the public. This is not allowed under European law. We have evidence that this was the case. We had an email response to our enquiry from committee convenor Ian Perry that talked of meetings set up for Councillors to discuss confidential information – including the private meeting at the hearing. We also had a response from planning head David Leslie in reply to a question about why confidential financial reports weren’t made available to Councillors saying that ALL information was made available to the Councillors at two meetings, including the private meeting in the hearing. Added to this, we knew from Councillors that financial information was available for them to read but they were not allowed to remove or take away as it was “confidential”. However, the Council proceeded to issue a point blank denial to the courts that the Councillors had available information not available to the public. Because of this, the advice from our lawyers changed in terms of the risk and potential costs of pursuing the case even to PEO stage. Our case – which should have been straightforward, would have had to go to presentation of evidence about the contents of those meetings, which means that the costs could substantially spiral.
Added to this, despite our case being with the Council, the developer’s lawyers were very heavily involved.
In our research we have encountered other groups who carried on regardless – many of them won their cases – then having to face appeals and ratcheting up £100,000s in the process. The system is so terrible for communities that it requires individuals to take the personal risk on behalf of an entire community. Those people have to shoulder any potential risk and we could only allow our petitioners to do this whilst the costs looked relatively controlled so that we could fundraise to support them. We could not allow our individual petitioners to take on the burden of risk if it looked as though that might spiral rapidly and uncontrollably.
Therefore, the tough decision was made not to continue with the current petition at this present time.
If further information comes to light to back up the evidence we already have in a way that would enable us to proceed to PEO without potentially spiralling costs – then the case can be pursued.
Judicial Review is a blunt weapon. But the anomaly in the law in terms of making individuals liable on behalf of communities – and the complete failure to protect them or allow communities to bring actions themselves rather than having to put individual people at risk in the face of companies with many millions at their disposal – has been shocking to understand.
Communities have few rights and the individuals who stand up for them have little protection. This is a situation recognised as unjust by many working for communities in the legal sector and needs to be rectified urgently and we are being urged by legal experts to publicise our experience to bring this terribly unjust situation to the attention of the wider public – particularly in this time of debate about the rights of communities highlighted by the new Community Empowerment Bill. Communities should not be unable to pursue legal justice simply due to the extremely prohibitive costs and unlimited risks to petitioners due to the deep pockets of the development industry.
Unfortunately, when it comes to legal rights, the Scottish Government is making it more, rather than less, hard for communities to access any legal help to be able to bring judicial reviews by bringing in a completely unworkable time limit (6 weeks) and continuing to allow those public-spirited individuals who put their names on the petition on behalf of their communities to be exposed to unlimited risks. Planning Democracy and other community-minded organisations are presently campaigning for Equal Rights of Appeal to provide communities with proper legal recourse and rights. We urge our members to support them and write to MSPs. We will tell you how in due course.
The money that was donated to the cause will be used to pay our lawyers – with what is left being retained for any new case to be brought. This will be donated to charity in due course. We will make our accounts available to the membership so that all remains transparent and clear.
We will be holding a Friends of Craighouse meeting very soon to discuss all of this with our members and discuss next moves.
Many thanks for all your support and sorry for this disappointing news at this time.
With so many unresolved issues hanging over the site, it is still paramount that the local community works towards a better solution to save this site – whether in the short or the long term.