Decision to Expel Pupil Upheld by Courts
26 February 2010
The parents of an independent school pupil have lost their appeal against a judge’s decision to dismiss their claim that their son’s expulsion from the school amounted to a breach of contract and warranted injunctive relief and the payment of damages by the school. The parents claimed that the expulsion of their son was an unjustifiable and unreasonable reaction to his conduct and the fact that the headmaster knew one of the members of the panel that had reviewed his decision had produced a biased result. They also argued that the panel had failed to make an independent assessment regarding whether or not expulsion of their son was an appropriate action to take in the circumstances.
The decision to expel the boy was initially reached by the headmaster alone. It was then assessed and upheld by the review panel, which consisted of members of the school’s board of governors and an independent member, who was the headmaster of another school. The judge in the lower court concluded that the decision was reached fairly, without bias, subject to an independent review. The parents appealed against the decision.
It was not disputed that the headmaster of the school was acquainted with the independent member of the review panel, but the Court of Appeal found that there was no evidence that the two men socialised with one another apart from attending the same church twice a month. They only knew each other on a limited professional basis, which was almost unavoidable given the relatively small number of independent school headmasters. The Court therefore held that a fair minded observer would not consider this would lead to a biased result.
The Court of Appeal also upheld the decision that the review panel had independently assessed whether expulsion was a punishment commensurate with the boy’s conduct. The judge had not only examined the panel’s written decision but had also taken oral evidence from its members and taken account of the notes made during the decision-making process. The panel had in fact dismissed some of the reasons put forward by the headmaster of the school as justification for his decision to expel the boy but concluded for itself that the boy’s conduct did warrant expulsion. A member of the panel had also given oral evidence explaining the role of the panel and this had assisted the judge in reaching his decision.
The Court found that, taken in its entirety, the evidence showed that the panel’s decision was reached fairly and independently and so the parents’ appeal was dismissed.
Disputes such as this are not often heard in the courts, but the fact that such decisions may be subject to legal review is a powerful incentive for schools to ensure that their procedures for exclusion of pupils are watertight. If you are involved with the governance of a school, or are concerned about issues such as these, contact us for advice.
For more information on this subject or any other legal matter, please contact us:
Tonbridge: 01732 770660
Sevenoaks: 01732 747900