As a resident of Brent in north-west London, I’m not sure what I think about the Labour council’s planned library cuts. I’m not happy that any should be cut. I don’t want social care to be cut any more than it needs to be, either, or any of the other important things councils do. And I think libraries could be cheaper and better by going back to basics and focusing solely on books – rather than increasingly becoming all-purpose community, youth and IT centres, which is what Willesden Green library sometimes seems like. Anyway, I have some sympathy with the campaign against the cuts, without thinking libraries (any more than legal aid) should be prioritised above all other public services.

I’m writing about this because of the failure, yesterday, of the appeal in the judicial review taken by campaigners against Brent Council’s decision. Regardless of my views on libraries, I’m pleased the appeal has been dismissed.

The claim was made on a number of grounds, but the main one was that the council had breached its duty under section 149 of the Equality Act 2010, by failing to have due regard to the the need to eliminate race discrimination. Indirect discrimination arose, it was argued, because it seems 46% of borrowers from Brent libraries are Asian, although Asians make up only 28% of the population of the borough.

I think there’s something funny about this approach to indirect discrimination, to be honest: of course a statistically-proven disparate impact on different groups can amount to indirect discrimination – that I don’t doubt. But, as I read the judgment, like Lord Justice Davis (para. 97)

I became increasingly doubtful if this argument on behalf of the appellants could be right; and in fact I have arrived at the view that it is artificial and wrong.

I’m still trying to work out where I think the “funniness” is found. The council argued that the closures were not intrinsically liable to affect Asian people more than anyone else, and I suspect this may be the answer, or something like it, though none of the judges seems to have agreed. In any event, though, the real complaint about the closures has nothing whatever to do with race discrimination – which is what lends this case a distinctly straw-clutching unreality.

The real problem with this approach to law – politics continued by whatever legal means are necessary – is the debilitating effect it has on politics, and on democracy itself. Most people agree, if challenged, that local democracy is sick, and should be revived. We agree power is too centralised, and ought to be devolved. There’s absolutely no point in thinking that, though, if you’re happy with councils’ decisions being constantly at risk from purely tactical legal challenges, in a continual game of jenga. Ultimately that has a chilling effect on local policy-making.

We have to accept, in a democracy, that politicians will make decisions we don’t like. If we can’t, and instead turn increasingly to tactical legalism in effect as a replacement for politics, we’ll deserve a less political, more centralised and less democratic society.