One of SAVE's strongest suits has been the readiness, when other alternatives have been exhausted, to initiate legal action. Broadly there are three types of action a voluntary group can instigate:
1. A writ of Mandamus
This is an action requesting the court require a minister - or local authority - to do what they are required to do by statute. For example, the Secretary of State for culture Media and Sport has a duty, not just a power, to compile lists of buildings of historic and architectural interest.
2. A case of Ultra Vires
This seeks to establish that a minister or local authority has acted beyond its powers.
3 Leave for Judicial Review
This requests the court to review and quash a decision by a minister or local authority.
Any discussion of legal action must be preceded by a caveat on costs. Lawsuits, as everyone knows, can prove very costly so it is preferable to seek to win your case by other means: by influencing public opinion, by making your case to officials and politicians, or by making representations at public enquiries. And the more you can show you have been closely involved in the battle from an early stage, the more weight you will carry if and when you decide to initiate legal action.
The first principle must be to obtain good advice. If possible find a solicitor or barrister willing to advise you free of charge - perhaps out of office hours, when the meter is not ticking. If no such source is available, ask for a realistic estimate of potential costs on a stage by stage basis. Thus you will know what your liability is and can decide whether to proceed.
Second, be vary wary of any type of action where you are likely to be required to give an undertaking on costs to the court.
If, for example, you obtain an injunction to halt building or demolition works, you may be interrupting a building contract; though this may well be only temporary, the opposition may also seek an undertaking, or even a bond, to cover their costs should you lose.
Wherever possible it is better to aim the action at local or central government for, say, failing to use their powers to stop the work. If you win, it will be for them to serve an enforcement notice or injunction as appropriate. Moreover, the simple fact that court proceedings have been launched my halt the works.
If a fine building is in acute danger and the only way of saving it is immediate recourse to a judge-in-chambers for an injunction, be sure to find out what the costs will be. If a major contract is broken or delayed, they could be very high. However, much demolition is done on a piece work or per day basis, and you might simply be talking about the loss of a day's work or a day or two's profit.
In the first instance, a simple solicitors letter may be sufficient to halt the work you wish to stop or to prompt action on a derelict building. Simplest of all is your own letter based on the advice of lawyers, stating in formal legal terms the advice you have received and the action you intend to take if you do not receive a response. Where a building is under imminent threat or being callously neglected, voluntary organisations may be able to move more quickly than local authorities.
SAVE and Urban Space Management's viable business scheme for Smithfield General Market and our letter making an offer on the site.
MINISTER SHOULD FOLLOW LEAD OF HER PREDECESSOR IN COVENT GARDEN AND LIST THE LONDON FRUIT AND WOOL EXCHANGE