Ali v Head and Governors of Lord Grey School

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
CourtHouse of Lords
JudgeLORD BINGHAM OF CORNHILL,LORD NICHOLLS OF BIRKENHEAD,LORD HOFFMANN,LORD SCOTT OF FOSCOTE,BARONESS HALE OF RICHMOND
Judgment Date22 Mar 2006
Neutral Citation[2006] UKHL 14

[2006] UKHL 14

HOUSE OF LORDS

Appellate Committee

Lord Bingham of Cornhill

Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead

Lord Hoffmann

Lord Scott of Foscote

Baroness Hale of Richmond

Ali (FC)
(Respondent)
and
Headteacher and Governors Lord Grey School
(Appellants)

Appellants:

Edward Faulks QC

Andrew Warnock

Jonathan Moffett

(Instructed by Barlow Lyde & Gilbert)

Respondents:

Cherie Booth QC

Carolyn Hamilton

Lisa Busch

(Instructed by The Children's Legal Centre London agents: Sharpe Pritchard)

LORD BINGHAM OF CORNHILL

My Lords,

1

Mr Ali, the respondent, is now a university student aged 18. The events giving rise to these proceedings took place in 2001-2002, when he was aged 13-14, and of compulsory school age. The issue for decision is whether his rights under article 2 of the First Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights were infringed by the appellants between 7 June 2001 and 20 January 2002.

The agreed facts

2

In March 2001 the respondent was a pupil at The Lord Grey School ("the school"), a maintained secondary foundation school at Bletchley, where the local education authority is the Milton Keynes Council. On 8 March 2001 a fire was discovered in a classroom at the school. The fire brigade, who were summoned, considered that the fire had been started deliberately. The police were called in. The respondent was one of three pupils seen leaving the classroom before the fire was discovered. He admitted to the police that he had been present, although he attributed the blame to another. The three pupils were cautioned by the police, taken to the police station and released on bail. On 29 March 2001 they were charged with arson.

3

The school authorities judged that the respondent should not attend the school while the criminal investigation and the ensuing prosecution were in train, and he was excluded from the school for successive periods from 9 March until 6 June 2001. Since no issue in the appeal relates to his exclusion during this period, it is unnecessary to recite the detailed facts. But certain points should be noted. First, the procedures laid down by statute and regulations to govern exclusions were not followed by the school authorities. Thus the exclusion of the respondent during this period, although obviously sensible, was not (it is agreed) lawful under the domestic education law of England and Wales. Secondly, until 14 May 2001 the school sent work, largely revision, for the respondent to do at home. His form teacher discussed this work with him on several occasions, and was concerned to ensure that he had enough work to do. Thirdly, the respondent was allowed to return to the school to sit his Standard Assessment Tests between 8 and 14 May 2001, and he did rather better than expected. Fourthly, the school told the respondent's parents on 25 May that it would continue to set work for the respondent as appropriate and asked them to make contact with the school to arrange to collect it, but they never did and no work was sent after 14 May. Fifthly, the school referred the respondent to the LEA for the provision of education otherwise than at school: the referral form, although finalised earlier, was not received by the LEA until 8 June. Reference to the Access Panel was requested by the school, but it was willing to negotiate the reintegration of the respondent if he was acquitted. Provision of materials, supervision and advice was suggested by the school as appropriate support for the respondent, described as an able student, pending his court appearance. Sixthly, the 45 day cap on the aggregate of periodic exclusions within a school year expired on 6 June 2001 (although this may not at the time have been appreciated by the school authorities). That is why 7 June 2001 (para 1 above) is a significant date. Any further exclusion after that date would, to be lawful, have had to be permanent. The school did not exclude the respondent permanently on 6 June, nor did it seek to do so, since it was awaiting the outcome of the criminal proceedings.

4

On 18 June 2001 the Crown Prosecution Service informed the respondent's solicitors (but not the school) that the prosecution would be discontinued for want of evidence, and this discontinuance was formally effected on the following day. The respondent and his brother then went to the school, which they told of this outcome, and they asked that the respondent be allowed to return to school immediately. The head teacher of the school told the brother that she would arrange for the respondent's re-entry to the school as soon as she received official notification of the discontinuance of the prosecution. She received a fax to this effect from the court on 22 June, and on 3 July received official notification from the police.

5

Meanwhile, ignorant that the prosecution had been discontinued, the LEA Access Panel met on 19 June. It recommended that the respondent be provided with tuition by the Pupil Referral Unit ("the PRU") at its Manor Road Centre while the prosecution continued and pending a decision on the respondent's future at the school. The Manor Road Centre was informed of this recommendation on 27 June and was to provide tuition until the end of term on 20 July in the first instance. The LEA also informed the respondent's parents of this recommendation and told them that the PRU would contact them to arrange a meeting. The school was told that the PRU had assumed responsibility for the respondent's education. In early July the PRU contacted the respondent's family, but they declined the offer of tuition by the PRU.

6

On 3 July 2001, having received notification from the police that the prosecution had been discontinued, the head teacher of the school wrote to the respondent's parents inviting them to a meeting with the school on 13 July "to discuss the way forward". She wrote again, repeating the invitation, on 4 July and in this letter said:

"I am mindful of the fact that [the respondent] has been out of school for some considerable time and am therefore keen that he should return as soon as possible."

All the staff who would be involved in the reintegration of the respondent into the school were to attend the meeting, and this was the earliest date on which they could all be present. It was envisaged that the three pupils would redecorate the fire-damaged room under the supervision of a painter and decorator as part of the school's citizenship programme.

7

Neither the respondent nor his family attended the proposed meeting on 13 July. The family chose not to attend for (as the trial judge found) no good reason. One of the other two boys did attend, and was admitted back into the school. The respondent's family did not attempt to contact the school again until 6 November. On 13 July the head teacher wrote to the respondent's parents:

"Following your failure to appear at the meeting organised this morning at The Lord Grey School, I am removing [the respondent] from our school roll and am writing to confirm to the Access Panel that other provision should now be made for [his] educational provision.

I will not be pursuing a civil action against you regarding the arson offence, but your failure to attend the meeting confirms to me that it would be entirely unsuitable for [the respondent] to continue further at this school."

The parents were given the names and telephone numbers of those they should contact at the Manor Road Centre if they wished further clarification or wished to discuss future educational provision. The trial judge held that this letter excluded the respondent permanently from the school, although his name was not removed from the school roll until mid-October. There was no reply to the head teacher's letter.

8

When the September term began the LEA thought, and told the school, that the respondent was in Bangladesh, but this was not so, and neither made proper enquiry. The family did not contact the LEA until mid-October. At a meeting between the respondent's father and the LEA's representative on 18 October the father was unsure whether the family wanted the respondent to return to the school. This prompted the LEA to write to the father on 22 October:

"Following our meeting on 18 October, I would like to confirm the following points:

  • 1. I will ask Marilyn Barby, Team Leader - Pupil Support, to provide tuition for [the respondent] as soon after 29 October as possible.

  • 2. In your search for a school place, be it The Lord Grey or another school, the following contact numbers may be useful to you for advice and support …

I would advise you to decide quickly whether you wish [the respondent] to return to The Lord Grey School and arrange an interview there or at another school as soon as possible so that he can resume his education on a full time basis."

A letter was also written to Ms Barby on the same day, pointing out:

"We need to provide tuition for [the respondent] as he has been out of school for a considerable time. This should be for a short period whilst he is supported back into school

I have advised the family that we will try to provide tuition as soon as possible after half term and given them the telephone numbers of the Education Welfare Service and Parent Partnership to help support admission back into Lord Grey or another secondary school."

The respondent and his family remained uncertain until early November whether they wanted him to return to the school but, on 6 November, the respondent's father wrote to the head teacher, seeking his son's reinstatement. He gave a reason for not attending the 13 July meeting which the trial judge, after investigation, found to be false. He pointed out that this was a very important year for his son, who had already missed ten (actually, eight) months of schooling. The school replied to the father...

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