In the case of Peter Laverie, a staff and board member at the college, versus the Scottish Ministers, Lord Clark ruled that Angela Constance, the then Education Secretary who is now Communities Secretary, was neither “wrong or vindictive” in sacking the board.
Constance acted after a litany of complaints were made about the board’s supervision of the college, which included allegations of staff bullying. The board also spent a six-figure sum on legal advice against a limit of £25,000.
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In his judgment, Lord Clark rejected the claim that Laverie, who was backed by teachers’ trade union the EIS, had been denied natural justice by an irrational decision.
As a consequence of the board’s dismissal, he and all those sacked are disqualified for life from joining a number of other boards of management in the further and higher education sector. The EIS said this breached Laverie’s human rights, but Lord Clark rejected this argument.
Lord Clark stated: “It cannot be said that the Cabinet Secretary’s decision was irrational at common law. The simple reality is that those who serve on boards of management of this kind, which have important public responsibilities and duties, must recognise that they expose themselves to collective responsibility for the board’s performance.
“That is repeatedly made clear in the governance and constitutional documents and the legislation provides that removal can be a consequence of mismanagement.
“The key themes of the petitioner’s complaints – that no account was taken of his individual responsibility and that he was not shown evidence of his individual failings – are misconceived.”
Lord Clark added: “What is clear is that the process in fact undertaken plainly complied with the requirements of natural justice. The Cabinet Secretary obtained, in writing, and through meetings, representations from all board members who wished to make them.
“The decision of the Cabinet Secretary to remove the board members was entirely within the range of reasonable responses under the statutory provisions.
“The petitioner’s suggestion of, in effect, ‘tipping-off’ members to allow them to resign would evade the very purposes of the legislation.
“The immediate bringing into effect of the Order does not display any wrong or vindictive motive by the Cabinet Secretary.
“When one looks at the whole circumstances, it was not unreasonable … for the Cabinet Secretary to approach matters as she did, viewing the Board on a collective basis. The Cabinet Secretary was fully entitled to reach the view that the Board had failed in its duties of management of the institution.”
Lord Clark pointed out that unlike disqualification of company directors, removal of a board member has no impact on his right to be employed, earn a living or practice his profession and has no penal effect.
He added: “I do not consider that the disqualification provisions, which have the effect that certain categories of persons will not be eligible to hold certain types of office, amount to a determination of civil rights and obligations – they merely state the consequences of removal.”
The National was told last night that Peter Laverie and the EIS were considering their response to the judgment.