EMPLOYMENT VETTING IN THE COURT OF APPEAL

January 21st, 2010 by Timothy Pitt-Payne QC

Employment vetting is of great interest to information lawyers.  Any vetting scheme depends on the systematic sharing of information about individuals.  Such schemes will always give rise to difficult questions about fairness.  An important recent decision of the Court of Appeal explores some of these issues, in the context of article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

Governors of X School v Queen on the application of G [2010] EWCA 1 concerned a teaching assistant at X school (“the employee”), who was accused of having sexual contact with a 15 year old boy on work experience at the school.  The school governors conducted a disciplinary hearing, and dismissed the employee.  The employee brought judicial review proceedings to challenge the governors’ decisions not to allow him legal representation at the disciplinary hearing or at a forthcoming appeal hearing.  He argued that these decisions violated his right to a fair hearing, under article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).  The employee’s claim succeeded at first instance.  The Court of Appeal upheld that decision, rejecting the governors’ appeal.

The basis of the employee’s claim was that an adverse finding in the disciplinary proceedings would expose him to statutory procedures that would prevent him from working with children.  The Court of Appeal summarised the relevant procedures, by reference to three phases in the employment vetting regime:  (i) the “list 99” procedure, under section 142 of the Education Act 2002, prohibiting certain individuals from working in education; (ii) the transitional regime, under the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 (“the 2006 Act”), whereby after 20th January 2009 certain cases under section 142 were referred to the new Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA); and (iii) the substantive regime under the 2006 Act, whereby list 99 was replaced with effect from 12th October 2009 by the “children’s barred list”, established under section 2(1)(a) of the 2006 Act.

The Court of Appeal considered whether the school disciplinary proceedings were a determinant of the employee’s civil right to practise his profession as a teaching assistant, so as to engage article 6 of the ECHR.  Dismissal by the governors would not itself preclude the employee from practising his profession.  A decision to include the employee on a statutory barring list would, however, have that effect.  The question was whether the disciplinary proceedings had a substantial influence or effect on the barring proceedings, and therefore on the determination of the employee’s civil right to practise his profession. The answer was yes: therefore, the disciplinary proceedings engaged article 6.

The Court went on to consider whether article 6 required that the employee should be entitled to legal representation in the disciplinary proceedings.  Article 6 did not entail a right to legal representation in every case:  but in this case there was such a right, given the seriousness of what was at stake for the employee, and given the potential for legal representation to make a difference to the outcome.

The above analysis assumed that the case was to be treated as civil rather than criminal for the purposes of article 6.  The employee argued that the case ought to be treated as criminal:  given its other conclusions, the Court of Appeal did not need to decide this point.

The governors were a public authority under the Human Rights Act 1998, and therefore subject to the duty under section 6(1) of that Act, not to act incompatibly with Convention rights.  The implications of the Court of Appeal’s decisions for private sector employers are uncertain.  Such employers are not subject to the section 6(1) duty, and are not susceptible to judicial review.  But in an unfair dismissal claim against a private sector employer, the employee might well rely on Governors of X School in order to argue that a failure to permit legal representation would render any dismissal unfair.

The case is of very considerable importance.  It illustrates the wide consequences of the vetting scheme introduced by the 2006 Act.  The scheme will give rise to a host of difficult legal issues:  the Courts are only just beginning to explore them.

 

This I can do at home

November 23rd, 2009 by Timothy Pitt-Payne QC

The last Queen’s speech before the election includes another proposal for databases about children; this time, in relation to children who are being home educated.

The background is that in January 2009 the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) commissioned Graham Badman to carry out a review of the current system for supporting and monitoring home education. The report (available here) was published in June 2009. Its first recommendation was that the DCSF should establish a national registration scheme, locally administered, for all children of statutory school age who are, or become, home educated.

On 11th June the Government launched a consultation about registration and monitoring proposals for home education. Unfortunately I cannot link to the consultation document itself, as it is currently unavailable on the DCSF website. The key proposals in the consultation document were these.

2.1 Register of home educated children
The review recommends that DCSF establishes a national registration scheme, locally administered, for all children of statutory school age who are, or become, electively home educated. The scheme described in the review is one where education and safeguarding issues are both considered as part of the registration process, with an initial statement of educational intent forming the basis for subsequent educational monitoring arrangements. The review response acknowledges that ultimately the scheme would need to be underpinned by guidance and training for local authority staff in order to work effectively. We accept that it will take time to put the full scheme in place particularly where more work is needed to provide more comprehensive guidance on the practical interpretation of ‘efficient’ and ‘suitable’.
2.2 Registration would be granted automatically unless there were safeguarding concerns (see next section): if at any time a LA became dissatisfied with the quality of home education provided to a child, it would – as now – serve a school attendance order.
2.3 We propose to legislate now for registration and monitoring arrangements that will focus on safeguarding but should also improve the quality of education. They will have the following features:
• Every home educated child of compulsory school age must be registered with the local authority in which the child is resident;
• Regulations will specify the information that parents must provide which is likely to be child’s name, date of birth, address, the same information for adults with parental responsibility; a statement of approach to education, and the location where education is conducted if not the home;
• Scope to extend the scheme to 18 in future;
• Regulations will specify how registration should take place;
• Any changes to registration details should be notified immediately;
• Registration must be renewed annually;
• It will be a criminal offence to fail to register or to provide inadequate or false information;
• Pupils should stay on the school roll for 20 days after a notification to home educate;
• The school must provide the local authority with a record of achievement to date and predicted future attainment;
• DCSF will take powers to issue statutory guidance relating to registration and monitoring.
2.4 Safeguarding
The review recommends that local authorities should have a discretion to refuse registration where there are safeguarding concerns. In addition, if safeguarding concerns are identified after home education has begun, the LA would have powers to revoke registration. Each case would need to be considered on its merits, balancing the rights of parents to home educate, and the rights of children to receive a suitable education in a safe environment.
2.5 Monitoring arrangements
Local authorities tell us that they need greater powers to ensure that home educated children are safe, well, and receiving a suitable education. The current arrangements allow parents to submit evidence that a ‘suitable education’ is being provided, which could be mainly written evidence. Local authorities have no powers to interview home educated children to establish that sample material provided is representative of their work, nor to establish that they are safe and well.
2.6 We believe that local authorities should interview children within 4 weeks of home education starting, after 6 months has elapsed, and thereafter at least annually to assess the quality of education provided and ensure that children are safe and well. The local authority should visit the premises where education is conducted, and question the child about the education provided, although at least 2 weeks notice should be given before the visit is conducted. The local authority should have the right to carry out the interview without a parent being present, if this is judged appropriate, or alternatively if the child is vulnerable or has particular communication needs, in the company of a trusted person who is not the home educator or parent/carer.

The consultation closed on 19th October, and as yet there has been no Government response to it.  The Queen’s Speech  nevertheless includes a proposal for a Children, Schools and Families Bill, one element of which is to be a new home educators’ registration system. For the full text of the proposed Bill, see here.  The provisions about home education are in Schedule 1 to the Bill, and consist of proposed amendments to the Education Act 1996.   New section 19A(1) of the 1996 Act will require each local authority to maintain a register of home-educated children. Regulations will make provision for how parents can apply to have their children included in the register. The local authority must refuse registration if they consider that it would be harmful to child’s welfare for the child to become, or remain, a home-educated child. It seems that if registration is refused, and the child is not sent to school, then the likely consequence will be a school attendance order: see the proposed amendments to section 437 of the 1996 Act. Under new section 19H of the 1996 Act, regulations can be made requiring other local authorities, and schools, to share information with a local authority for the purposes of that authority’s home education functions.

 

There are four points to make about this. One is that the proposed registers are, in substance, a mechanism for parents to seek advance permission from their local authority before home schooling their children. Failure to register will not in itself be a criminal offence, but may lead to a school attendance order; and failure to comply with that order may be a criminal offence. Secondly, exactly what information is to be included in each register is unclear, and will be set out in regulations; but it may well be that the registers will include information about each child’s prospective home education, as well as basic personal details such as name and address. Thirdly, it is unclear as yet who will have access to these registers, and for what purpose.  And fourthly, there are to be specific information-sharing provisions in connection with home education.

 

 

US Information on Guantanamo Detainee to be Kept Secret

February 5th, 2009 by Anya Proops QC

In a ruling handed down yesterday, the High Court relucantly held that US documents containing information relating to the treatment of Binyam Mohamed, the last recognised British resident to be held in Guantanamo Bay, should be with withheld from publication (Binyam Mohamed v Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs [2009] EWHC 152 (Admin); 11KBW’s Karen Steyn appeared on behalf of the Secretary of State). The case is a highly sensitive one as Mr Mohamed alleges that evidence allegedly implicating him in terrorist activity was obtained as a result of torture. It is his position that the withheld information would suport his case on this issue. The Court based its ruling on a statement made by the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, to the effect that disclosure of the information would pose a risk to intelligence co-operation from the US if it was published and would, as a result, put the UK general public at risk. The judges (Thomas LJ and Lloyd Jones J) made clear in the ruling that they had serious concerns about the position that the goverment was adopting on the question of whether the information should be published, not least because, in their view, the information in question could not itself possibly be described as sensitive US intelligence. However, they went on to conclude that they had no alternative but to refuse publication in light of Mr Miliband’s statement. Notably, Clive Stafford Smith, who represents Mr Mohammed has commented that the judgment is in fact ‘canny’ because: ‘If the judges had ordered the material to be revealed, over the government’s objection, there would have been a protracted appeal and nobody would have learned anything for months or years. Instead, they have placed both the British government and the Obama administration in the immediate and uncomfortable position of having to confess whether they want to cover up evidence of torture.’  In a statement, the White House thanked the UK government ‘for its continued commitment to protect sensitive national security information’. In a statement made in Parliament today, Mr Miliband asserted that the question whether this information should be made public was a decision which only the US could take and that the UK ought not to interfere with those decisions. The ruling highlights the particular difficulties which courts face when dealing with applications for disclosure of information in the face of Government assertions that disclosure will damage national security.

The judgment:

https://www.11kbw.com/judgments/docs/BinyamMohamedvForeignSecretary.pdf

Media coverage

https://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/7871226.stm

https://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/feb/04/guantanamo-bay-torture

Commentary by Clive Stafford Smith

https://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/feb/05/guantanamo-torture