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Belfast school wins challenge over being forced to admit pupil who suffered from suspected hate crime

Published 09/11/2016

Mr Justice Colton is expected to announce his final determination next wee
Mr Justice Colton is expected to announce his final determination next wee

A Belfast grammar school has won a legal challenge over being forced to admit an Asian boy whose home came under racist attack.

The High Court ruled on Wednesday that the decision taken by an Exceptional Circumstances Body (ECB) who assessed the 12-year-old pupil's case was procedurally unfair.

However, a judge was urged not to make any order requiring the child's transfer to another school amid fears of causing further trauma.

Mr Justice Colton is expected to announce his final determination next week.

Anonymity orders imposed in the case prevent any of the parties being identified.

The boy, whose family have been granted political asylum in the UK, failed to gain the required score when he sat the AQE transfer test last year.

Despite scoring well below the minimum entry level, he was given a place based on circumstances linked to suspected hate crime against his family after they arrived in Northern Ireland.

Their home was attacked, a car was burnt and a threatening racist letter left at the door of the property.

The boy, referred to only as AA, developed psychological symptoms.

He was in constant fear and could not be left alone, the court heard.

His parents applied to the ECB in a bid to to get him into the grammar school, citing the psychiatric trauma suffered.

The board considered the case twice over the summer and issued the same direction both times that the boy should be admitted to the school.

It concluded that it was essential for him to retain a close network of close friends also being educated there.

Following emergency court action taken by the family in August the school agreed to let him enter first year.

But it made clear that consent was given "under protest" and without prejudice to its own challenge to the ECB.

In its application for judicial review counsel for the school argued that it was not in AA's best interests to remain there due to his low academic performance.

Concerns were raised over the child's own welfare if he continues to fall behind classmates.

The school's lawyers argued that it knew nothing about the first ECB hearing in July.

It was also claimed the principal was wrongly "kept in the dark" about the so-called network of friends during the second tribunal in August.

Mr Justice Colton backed submissions that there had been a procedural flaw in the ECB procedure.

He said: "By failing to inform the school of the basis for its decision in July prior to the August hearing, and thereby failing to give the school an opportunity to meet this submission I have come to the conclusion there has been a procedural unfairness in the decision making process."

The judge stressed, however, there remained significant issues about what relief should be granted.

Counsel for the boy's family, Fiona Dohery QC, argued that the judgment should be left to "speak for itself" without any further order.

She said: "To do otherwise would heap further distress and trauma on this already traumatised child."

But a barrister representing the school countered that the ECB decision should be quashed and reconsidered.

He added: "The applicant's contention is that (AA's) interests are better served in another school environment."

Mr Justice Colton told the parties he wanted to reflect on their submissions before issuing a final judgment  "very shortly"

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