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Decision to close 36 police stations in London lawful, Divisional Court rules

A decision by the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC) in October 2017 to close 36 police stations in London was lawful, a Divisional Court has ruled.

However, the judges – Lord Justice Lindblom and Mr Justice Lewis – did find in Kohler, R (On the Application Of) v Mayor's Office for Policing and Crime [2018] EWHC 1881 (Admin) that MOPAC had failed to consider a material point raised during the consultation exercise about one police station (Wimbledon), and said the decision to close that particular station was unlawful and should be quashed.

They were also heavily critical of the overall consultation process, which they said had not been conducted well.

“Both the content and the structure of the consultation document were unsatisfactory. It was markedly less helpful than such documents should be if they are to achieve their purpose in informing a decision on a matter of great significance for a large number of people – here the entire population of the metropolis. The internal documents prepared for meetings had omissions and contained errors. The summary of the consultation responses was not adequate,” the judges said.

“That is all the more surprising given the importance of the issue – policing and public safety in London. The issue for this court, however, is whether the consultation and decision-making process was legally flawed, so that the decision to close one or all 37 police stations was unlawful.

The case was brought by Professor Paul Kohler, a legal academic based at SOAS University who was the victim of a violent attack in his home in Wimbledon in 2014.

Four men were sentenced to between 13 to 19 years’ imprisonment for the crime against Mr Kohler, who believes he only survived because police officers were able to get to his house from the local station in Wimbledon within eight minutes of the 999 call made by his daughter.

Lord Justice Lindblom and Mr Justice Lewis concluded: “The defendant did not apply additional or unpublished criteria in reaching the decision to close 37 police stations and did not act inconsistently in the way in which the relevant decisions were reached. It did provide sufficient information to enable persons to respond to the consultation document. In general, there is no evidence of a failure to consider the responses made as part of the consultation exercise.

“In one distinct respect however, which was the proposal to close Wimbledon police station, the defendant did fail to consider a material point raised during the consultation exercise, namely the suggestion that the decision should be postponed pending an evaluation of the impact of new technology. The decision to close the Wimbledon police station is therefore unlawful and cannot be allowed to stand. To this extent the claim for judicial review succeeds.

A spokesperson for the Mayor of London said: “In large part the court has agreed that the decision, forced on MOPAC, to close 36 front counters in order to save an additional £8m a year is lawful.

“The decision to close the counters is as a direct result of government cuts to the police budget since 2010, which has contributed to officer numbers dropping below 30,000 for the first time in 15 years. The money saved from closing the front counters will instead be used to protect frontline policing as much as possible.

“On just one point, the court has required MOPAC to reconsider the closure of Wimbledon police station and MOPAC will do this in due course.”

Leigh Day, Mr Kohler’s law firm, highlighted the court’s criticism of the consultation process.

It also pointed out that the court had accepted that the point made by Merton Liberal Democrats – that it was premature to take a decision to close Wimbledon police station until a proper assessment had been made of the impact of the introduction of new technology – could have been made in respect of other police stations. “However, in the absence of evidence that it was, the court was not prepared to quash the decision to close the other police stations,” the firm said.

Tessa Gregory, a partner at Leigh Day, said: “Our client is delighted that the court has quashed the decision of the Mayor’s Office to close and sell his local police station in Wimbledon. Whilst the court did not consider it had the necessary evidence to quash the decision to close other police stations across London, it was highly critical in its judgment of the way in which the whole consultation was conducted.

“The judges noted that these failings were particularly surprising given the importance of the issue: the policing and public safety of the capital. Our client hopes that the Mayor will take time to humbly reflect on the comments made by the court and reconsider his decision. Londoners deserve better.”

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