In a ruling last week, the UK Supreme Court judged one council consultation to be unlawful and opened the doors for challenges to other consultations across the country. In the world of public consultation, there is little that any two practitioners will agree upon, except that politicians will talk smugly and patronisingly of "public participation" like it was some kind of Holy Grail. The reality is that, whether corporate or public, many consultation exercises - if not even most of them - fall well short of expectations.
In the Supreme Court ruling, it was agreed that the council in question:
Did not tell people what all the options were. Misleadingly implied there were no possible alternatives Gave no information about why they had decided to implement something Made it seem like they had no choice, which was incorrect.
In all too many cases, and not just in the UK, political or corporate expediency tends to present a simple, single case and then the consultation exercise tends to run to a predetermined schedule and a rather predictable outcome.
It is to be hoped that the Supreme Court ruling will now de-politicise consultation exercises, and - to some extent - remove these predictable outcomes and shift away from rubber-stamping and towards more constructive debate and decision-making based upon transparent criteria that reflect the business at hand.
Do expect it to be rather difficult to get in touch with council officers across England for a few weeks, while they feverishly check through recent consultation exercises to assess whether what they have conducted passes muster.