Belfast Telegraph

Pupil's bid to fight expulsion from CCTV school becomes a human rights case before High Court judge

By alan erwin and anna maguire

Concerns have been raised after a grammar school pupil's challenge to being expelled made it all the way to the High Court.

Ukip MLA David McNarry hit out after a High Court judge refused a former pupil of St Malachy's College leave to seek a judicial review over his expulsion.

Staff used CCTV in the north Belfast grammar school to track the boy, who they suspected was using cannabis during school hours, the court heard.

Those suspicions turned out to be false. But action was taken against the teenager on account of his disciplinary record and alleged intention to smoke a rolled-up cigarette in the school.

The teenager was suspended and then expelled from St Malachy's earlier this year. A number of other pupils linked to wider inquiries are understood to have left the school.

The former pupil – who cannot be identified – then sought to judicially review the board of governors and an independent appeal tribunal which upheld the decision.

Mr McNarry has raised concerns about the case.

"Irrespective of someone's disciplinary record, that such matters have to reach the courts, it's political correctness gone mad and a huge waste of money," the Strangord MLA said.

"If this case was paid for by legal aid then I have paid for it, you have paid for it, and everyone else has paid for it."

Part of the case made on his behalf involved a claim that he was subjected to covert surveillance which breached his Article 8 privacy entitlements under the European Convention on Human Rights.

David Lambon, principal of St Malachy's College, told the Belfast Telegraph that the school acted within its duty of care to pupils.

Yesterday, a judge at the High Court rejected the teenager's argument after declaring that the school had a legal duty to act in place of a parent.

Mr Justice Horner said: "In respect of a breach of Article 8 rights by the use of CCTV, I do not consider the rights of the applicant were engaged."

Even if they were, he added, such interference was both lawful and proportionate.

"The school was in loco parentis," the judge said.

"This constituted a minimal interference necessary to establish if illegal drugs were used on school premises."

Lawyers from the Children's Law Centre claimed it was unreasonable to take action against the teenager because he was not involved in substance abuse. As part of their case they argued that tests on a rolled-up cigarette seized in the incident found no cannabis.

But the judge refused leave to seek a judicial review after holding that the appeal tribunal subsequently convened by the Belfast Education and Library Board was fully aware of all facts – including key information that no illegal substances were involved on the day in question. He said its decision was within the range of reasonable responses.

"In light of all the evidence I consider it to be unimpeachable," the judge held.

Even though an arguable case may have been established if the proceedings were focused on the school alone, the judge indicated it would have been pointless.

We used CCTV for safety of students, says head

By Anna Maguire

The principal of a school that used CCTV to track the movements of a pupil has defended the practice.

Yesterday it emerged that staff at St Malachy's College used CCTV to track a male pupil, who was suspected of using cannabis during school hours, the High Court heard.

Those suspicions were proved to be unfounded.

The teenager, who the court heard had a disciplinary record, was suspended and then expelled from St Malachy's earlier this year. The pupil, who cannot be identified, then sought to judicially review the board of governors and an independent appeal tribunal which upheld the decision.

Part of the case made on his behalf involved a claim that he was subjected to covert surveillance which breached his Article 8 privacy entitlements under the European Convention on Human Rights.

David Lambon, principal of the west Belfast school, told the Belfast Telegraph that staff were merely fulfilling their duty of care to pupils, in the absence of their parents.

The school has CCTV cameras dotted around the school, with signs at its two main entrances to alert people to their use. Mr Lambon refused to confirm whether extended CCTV was used to monitor the teenager in question – beyond that used around the school building.

"It may have been. It may have involved additional cameras," Mr Lambon said.

"St Malachy's, in common with many schools, uses CCTV to ensure pupils' safety and welfare around the school. That would be well known by the pupils," he added.

"Schools have a duty of care, the same as a parent would have for their children, and we take that duty of care seriously."

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