Government decision against Waltham Forest News upheld by judge
Waltham Forest Council has lost a legal bid against a government ruling that orders the local authority to cease publishing its free sheet Waltham Forest News every fortnight.
A High Court judge ruled that the council’s judicial review challenging the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) decision on the matter was not “an abuse of power” as had been claimed.
Both Waltham Forest and Hackney councils have continued to print fortnightly publications for several years despite them being in breach of a publicity code agreed by MPs in 2011, which aims to protect the freedom of local media from the “unfair competition” of taxpayer-funded publications.
Dozens of other local authorities around the UK agreed to comply with the code by limiting their publications to four times per year – but the two Labour-run East London councils held out to challenge the decision in court.
Mrs Justice Andrews, in her verdict issued on 7th June, said: “There seems to me to be considerable force in [government lawyer] Sir James Eadie’s argument that the enforcement of the restriction on local authority publications promotes freedom of expression by protecting and encouraging the development of the local independent press.”
A council spokesperson has since confirmed that an appeal would be lodged. They said: “We did not take the decision to challenge the government lightly. We produce Waltham Forest News because the government, by law, insist councils pay to publish statutory notices in a printed newspaper.
“These rules mean local authorities currently pay £68million in council taxpayers’ money to comply with these rules. Waltham Forest News was our way of complying that also helps us communicate with all our residents, particularly those who are hardest to reach.
“We know our residents appreciate a newspaper that champions both the people and the area, giving every household a vital guide to what’s going on and what’s great about Waltham Forest. We are therefore appealing the decision.”
This week the council published its latest edition of Waltham Forest News -three days after the judge’s ruling. Asked when the next edition would be published, the council spokesperson said it was due to come out on 1st July.
An MHCLG spokesperson said: “We will be filing a government response to the application. We will not be commenting further at this time.”