Council seeks to block individual’s legal fund

Yvonne Duncan
Yvonne Duncan
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Fife Council is seeking to block a Leslie resident’s request for legal aid reports, NEIL HENDERSON.

Legal officials at Fife House have lodged a formal objection with the Scottish Legal Aid Board to withhold funding for Yvonne Duncan, who is challenging the local authority over its handling of the 2009 planning application for Lomond Quarry.

Mrs Duncan has called for a judicial review into the council’s approval of planning permission issued in April, 2011.

Although Mrs Duncan signed a residents’ petition in September 2009 opposing the application, the council is highlighting that she did not submit an individual representation until December, 2011.

While they accept that in Scotland there is no specific time limit in which proceedings can be brought, council officials highlight an unwarranted delay.

Furthermore the ‘Gazette’ understands that the council holds the view that Mrs Duncan, who lives at Patterson Park, Leslie, close to the quarry boundary, is ‘not prejudiced or disadvantaged as a result of the planning permission being granted’.

Iain Matheson, chief legal officer, said: “I can confirm that we have lodged an objection to this legal aid application on three grounds, one of them being the delay in raising this action.

“It is not uncommon for the council to object to legal aid applications from time to time.”

Councillor Bill Kay, who represents Yvonne Duncan’s Ward, said the council’s move was ‘an unusual one’ and added: “I’m surprised that Fife Council have tried to block legal assistance to what is an individual’s democratic right and only form of recourse.”

Local MP Lindsay Roy added: “It seems absolutely bizarre that local residents have been told by the council that the only way they can challenge the decision of the local committee is by taking out a civil action.

‘’However, when a resident, who I understand lives less than 100 metres from the quarry boundary and therefore has a legitimate interest in clarifying matters, did exactly that, the council appealed against an application for legal aid.

‘’This is a highly unsatisfactory way for Fife Council to behave.

‘’They have plenty of legal expertise paid for by council taxpayers at their disposal and for them to try to prevent one such taxpayer who dares to challenge a committee decision having similar representation seems, at the very least, morally wrong.’’

Leslie Community Council’s John Wincott added: “I have had numerous residents contact me about the Council’s instructions to them to take civil action, and they have all been concerned about the cost of this.

“Now, when the first resident applies for Legal Aid, Fife Council immediately engage their legal department to put a barrier in their way.

“This is like saying to the residents, ‘the only course you can take is civil action, but we will do everything in our power to stop you taking it.”