Teachers accused: 4 recent cases

May 1st, 2013

The following 4 recent cases all share the broad theme of claims or accusations against teachers.

1.  Haye v General Teaching Council for England (unreported, King J, 11 April 2013, summary available on Lawtel) concerned the prohibition order imposed on a teacher following comments he made to pupils about his Christian beliefs on homosexuality and church attendance on Sundays which received widespread coverage in the media.  The full decision of the professional conduct committee is available here but in summary, the teacher (who was belongs to the Seventh-Day Adventist Church), told a year 11 class that the way homosexual people lived was disgusting and a sin, and on another occasion told year 9 children that anyone who worships on Sunday is “basically worshipping the devil”.  The High Court dismissed his appeal holding that the committee’s reasons were impeccable and it was impossible to conclude that its decision was wrong.  It was said that the teacher’s arguments about unreasonableness, disproportionality and his rights under article 9 ECHR based upon the absence of any evidence that his comments had any detrimental effect on any student all missed the point, which was that it was the potential for this which mattered.  The panel had found that he lacked insight into the appropriateness of his comments and as a role model for pupils and was expected to promote tolerance of the rights, faiths and beliefs of others.

2.  Wilkin-Shaw v Fuller [2013] EWCA Civ 410 concerned a claim for negligence against a teacher and a school following the tragic drowning of a pupil on a school trip.  As with all negligence cases, the case turned very much on its facts and it should also be noted that the claim was put differently in the Court of Appeal from how it had been put below (see paras 30-31), but the following is a brief summary.  One of the teachers had got lost on the way to meet the group of staff and children at a checkpoint, so they had to continue without her and, following the suggestion of another walker who encountered them, tried to cross a river which was when the terrible accident occurred.  The Court of Appeal said that the teacher was negligent in getting lost, saying that although “map reading on landscapes such as Dartmoor is far from easy and it is a fortunate walker who has not made a map-reading error in such country”, a “high standard of navigational skills was to be expected of those training 14 year olds during an expedition” and the errors made were serious and elementary.  However, the claim was dismissed because it was said to be “very speculative” what course events would have taken if the teacher had arrived at the checkpoint and it could not be said that this would have led to a different outcome or was causative of the fatal attempt to cross the river.

3.  In Jackson v Oxfordshire County Council (unreported, Mackay J, 26 March 2013, summary available on Lawtel), a student was being pushed in his wheelchair by a teaching assistant when the front wheel became stuck and it tipped over causing him to suffer injuries.  The teaching assistant said that after this happened she noticed a pencil at the bottom of the ramp and thought that had caused the wheelchair to tip but she had not seen it at the time.  The claim against the local authority was dismissed, the court holding that the teaching assistant was not negligent in failing to see the pencil, even if she had she would have been entitled to conclude that she could have ridden over it and that the local authority had an adequate system in place for inspecting the ramp.  The appeal was dismissed on the basis that it was not for the court on appeal to retry the case or substitute its decision, the judge had been entitled to reach the conclusions he had on the evidence before him and there was no error of law.

4.  Finally the case of R (L) v Chief Constable of Cumbria Constabulary [2013] EWHC 869 (Admin) it was held that the disclosure of a sexual allegation made by an 18-year-old pupil against a teacher in a subsequent Enhanced Criminal Record Certificate was a disproportionate and unjustifiable interference with the teacher’s rights under article 8 ECHR, with reliance being placed on the allegation being relatively minor, not properly tested or proven to reliable and the risk identified was slight and to a very limited class of persons in defined circumstances.  This decision is discussed in full by Rachel Kamm on 11KBW’s Panoptican blog.

Paul Greatorex

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