Injunction against suspension of teachers refused

February 20th, 2012

In Macauley v Newham LBC, the High Court (Lloyd Jones J) has refused the application for an injunction on behalf of teachers suspended from working at one of the borough’s schools pending an investigation into allegations of falsification of attendance registers. The teachers (supported by the NUT) argued that their suspension was a breach of the implied term of trust and confidence because there was insufficient evidence to support the allegations and no need for them to be suspended pending the investigation, which had already lasted 4 months. They sought interim relief pending trial compelling the authority to end their suspension and make reasonable endeavours to find alternative work for them.

This was an usual claim. It is relatively common for investigations into teacher’s conduct to take some considerable time, and 4 months is by no means longer than the norm, although it is of course highly undesirable that investigations of this sort do take so long to resolve, given the inevitable deleterious effect on the careers of the teachers involved and (in some cases) their emotional and mental health.

Lloyd Jones J refused the applications. In doing so, he recognised that what was sought by way of interim relief would effectively dispose of the proceedings and therefore that it was appropriate to consider the likelihood of the teachers obtaining relief at trial and not simply whether there was a ‘serious issue to be tried’ in accordance with standard American Cyanamid principles.

He concluded that the suspensions on full pay were properly in accordance with the school’s disciplinary procedure, which provided for suspensions in cases of alleged gross misconduct. He further considered that the local authority had a sufficient basis for investigating the allegations, and that the authority was acting reasonably in withholding further evidence pending the completion of the investigation as to do otherwise might prejudice the outcome of the investigation. He accepted that the authority had acted reasonably in concluding that having the teachers at school during the investigation might prejudice the outcome of that investigation. He also accepted that although the investigation was taking some time, the period to date had been reasonable having regard to the nature of the investigation and the steps that had been taken.

In the circumstances, he considered that there was not a serious issue to be tried, or a good arguable case and accordingly the teachers failed the first American Cyanamid hurdle.

However, he observed that even if they did have a good arguable case, an injunction would have been refused because damages would not have been an adequate remedy for either party and, moreover, there had been a breakdown of trust and between the teachers and the school which meant that an injunction was inappropriate.

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