Grant v. The Teacher's Appeals Tribunal & Anor, Court of Appeal - Privy Council, December 07, 2006, [2006] UKPC 59

Resolution Date:December 07, 2006
Issuing Organization:Privy Council
Actores:Grant v. The Teacher's Appeals Tribunal & Anor
 
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[2006]UKPC 59

Grant v. The Teacher's Appeals Tribunal & Anor (Jamaica) [2006] UKPC 59 (7 December 2006)

Privy Council Appeal No 45 of 2005

Easton Wilberforce Grant Appellant

V

.

(1) The Teacher's Appeals Tribunal

(2) The Attorney General Respondents

FROM

THE COURT OF APPEAL OF

JAMAICA

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JUDGMENT OF THE LORDS OF THE JUDICIAL

COMMITTEE OF THE PRIVY COUNCIL

Delivered the 7th December 2006

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Present at the hearing:-

Lord Bingham of Cornhill

Lord Rodger of Earlsferry

Baroness Hale of Richmond

Lord Carswell

Lord Mance

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[Delivered by Lord Carswell]

The appellant Easton Wilberforce Grant was a teacher in Montego Bay Community College (``the College''), where he had taught economics, mathematics and statistics to A-level students since 1992. He found himself at odds with the then Principal, Dr Lorna Nembhard, over the administration of the College. Following a series of acrimonious interruptions and exchanges at a staff meeting in September 1998 and in correspondence, and his subsequent refusal to attend meetings with the Principal to discuss the academic performance of his students, the Principal made a complaint to the Board of Management. The ensuing disciplinary proceedings resulted eventually in the termination of his employment. He brought an application for judicial review of the decision to dismiss him, on a number of grounds which will be discussed in this judgment, but this was dismissed. The Court of Appeal of Jamaica dismissed his appeal against the decision of the Supreme Court and the appellant appealed to the Privy Council with the leave of the Court of Appeal.

The College was at all material times administered by a Board of Management (``the Board'') constituted as provided for by Regulation 41 of the Education Regulations 1980 (``the Regulations''), with a chairman appointed by the Minister of Education, Youth and Culture from among the six members nominated by the National Council on Education. The members of the Board included the Principal of the College and representatives of different types of staff, amongst whom was a member elected by the academic staff. The term of office of the members of the Board was a maximum of three years, but by September 1998 the term of office of the then members had expired. It is part of the respondents' case that this fact was not appreciated by the members of the Board until some time after 7 October 1998. A claim was made at one stage by the appellant that it was known earlier to the Chairman and the Principal, but there is no evidence to support that suggestion.

The tensions between the appellant and the Principal erupted into open warfare in the summer of 1998. The Principal sent him a memorandum dated 10 June 1998, in which she complained that he had failed to attend a staff meeting called for that morning and when later asked to account for his absence had stated that he had been watching a World Cup football match. In the memorandum the Principal reminded him of his professional obligation to attend staff meetings and stated that she did not intend to tolerate his ``casual approach'' to the matter. The appellant replied by a letter of 4 September 1998 couched in what one can only describe as abusive terms. He accused the Principal of indiscretion, unprofessional behaviour, despotic behaviour, coercion and intimidation. He claimed that staff meetings were meaningless, boring talk shops, where people were not free to speak their minds, partly because of the Principal's attitude to ideas which did not support her own, and refused to guarantee that he would attend any more. This letter was clear evidence of insubordination and extreme rudeness on the appellant's part, but his opinions were so far expressed in private correspondence. This changed, however, at the staff meeting held on 7 September 1998.

This meeting was convened at the beginning of the academic year and was attended by some 41 people, including the Principal and Vice-Principal. Among them were a number of newly joined members of staff. Several items on the agenda were dealt with in an uneventful fashion, then at item 4, relating to the College Calendar, the appellant stated that he was tired of having to go through the same items on the agenda every year. He wanted the function of the Board to be discussed and maintained with some persistence that he wanted it dealt with then, rather than leaving it to Any Other Business, where it could be discussed though not figuring in the circulated agenda. He kept insisting on this course, and the Principal asked the members present if they wished to suspend standing orders to permit it, but there was no response. The appellant then told the Principal that the Board was a ``paper Board'' and that all decisions regarding the policies of the College were taken by her.

The Principal resumed conducting the meeting in accordance with the agenda and a little time later came to the topic of examination results. It was reported that the pass rate for the appellant's subjects was low, but the Head of the Department pointed out that the appellant had been on leave for one term and another person was employed to teach the subjects in his absence. The Principal commented positively on encouraging examination results, but indicated that where pass results were low she would like to meet Heads of Departments and lecturers for those subjects, in order to discuss the possible problems with a view to taking corrective action. The appellant then stated that he had no intention of attending a meeting with anyone.

The meeting continued in normal fashion for a further period, but then the appellant made an accusation that the Principal had collected the funds generated by the evening school and determined the way in which they were expended. The Principal took exception to this, describing it as an accusation of financial impropriety and irregularity. The appellant did not attempt to disclaim any intention to make such an aspersion and went on to say that he would not stop until he had a say in the administration of the finance of the College. The Principal thereupon commented on his ``unprofessional and inappropriate behaviour'' and demanded that he respect the office of Principal.

The meeting continued until the item of Any Other Business was reached. Under this head the appellant raised the question of housing for members of staff. When the Principal responded he repeated his comment that the Board was only a ``paper Board''. He said that what was needed was an ``august'' Board, by which he meant one with vision, and accused the Board of being neither vibrant nor effective.

On the following day, 8 September 1998, the Principal wrote to the appellant, expressing her grave concern at what she described as ``the aggressive, abusive and unprofessional manner'' in which he had conducted himself at the staff meeting the previous day. She rehearsed in some detail in the letter her complaints about the way in which the appellant had behaved at the meeting, which she said was deliberately insubordinate and undermined the Principal's authority in the presence of the full complement of staff, including the new members. She concluded by setting out a series of conclusions:

``I wish to also use this medium to advise you of the following

1. The behaviour which you displayed was aggressive, verbally humiliating and abusive. I am therefore reporting you to the board for unprofessional conduct.

2. You deliberately and publicly defied the Principal's authority not only by refusing to follow the agenda of the staff meeting and by ignoring her appeals to you to conduct yourself with dignity and decorum, but also by publicly refusing to meet with her to discuss the examination results of your students. I am therefore reporting you for deliberate and repeated insubordination.

3. You made public allegations which have serious implications of financial impropriety and irregularities. You have also alleged that the Principal has usurped the functions of the Board. I am requesting you to tell the Board, by specific examples, the ways in which ``the principal is the Board''.

4. You have publicly abused and accused the Board of Management of being a ``paper board'' and lacking in vision. Please provide them with further information to substantiate your claim.

5. You have implied a threat to the administration of the college. Please clarify this to the Board.

By copy of this letter, the Board is being informed of the situation and requested to meet at the earliest time possible to investigate these matters and to take appropriate action.

I also wish to remind you of the general remarks which I made in the staff meeting about professional conduct and the need for a consultative/collaborative rather than a confrontational approach to problems which may be identified from time to time.''

The Principal then wrote a letter dated 10 September 1998 in response to the appellant's letter of 4 September, rejecting his claim that the staff meeting held on 10 June had been rescheduled for the time at which a World Cup match was on, for the convenience of the Principal and without regard to the wishes of the staff. In the course of the letter she stated:

``Your statement that you cannot guarantee that you will attend any more staff meetings, can only be interpreted as insubordination and indiscipline as well as a direct threat to staff discipline. I am therefore reporting you to the board on a charge of insubordination. I am using this medium to advise you that you are required to attend staff meetings and any other meetings called by the principal or any other person authorised to act on behalf of the principal. Your failure to do so unless on the odd occasion when there are extenuating circumstances as explained by an apology for absence tendered in a professionally acceptable manner, will be interpreted as deliberate insubordination.''

The Principal subsequently...

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