Following a hearing in Portree Sheriff Court on 16 and 17 November 2015, Sheriff James Tierney has today dismissed Highland Council’s appeal against the decision of a School Closure Review Panel and confirmed the decision of the Panel.
School closure proposals from local authorities that were called in under the Schools (Consultation) (Scotland) Act 2010 (2010 Act) were previously determined by Scottish Ministers, who reviewed whether or not the statutory obligations had been met and determined the school closure. Amendments made to the 2010 Act by the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 changed that process so that school closure proposals that are called in by Scottish Ministers are now referred to the Convener of the School Closure Review Panels, a body independent of Government. The Convener is required to constitute a School Closure Review Panel, a body also independent of Government, to determine each individual case.
A constituted Panel reviews the school closure decision by considering whether the local authority has (i) failed in a significant regard to comply with the requirements of the 2010 Act; and (ii) failed to take proper account of a material consideration relevant to the decision. The Panels do not re-take the local authority’s decision or consider any aspects of the closure apart from the two considerations set out above. It is a local authority’s right to make a school closure decision, and a Panel’s role is to ensure that the decision has been taken in line with the 2010 Act.
On 29 June 2015, a School Closure Review Panel refused consent to Highland Council’s plans to close Dunvegan Primary School and Nursery Class; Edinbane Primary School and Nursery Class; Knockbreck Primary School and Nursery Class; and Struan Primary School and Nursery Class. Highland Council lodged an appeal in Portree Sheriff Court on 10 July 2015.
The Panel’s final disposal, which was subject to the appeal, stated:
“For the reasons indicated above the Panel has concluded that Highland Council has not fulfilled its obligations under the 2010 Act. In particular, the Panel has concluded that it has failed in a significant regard to comply with the requirements imposed on it by (or under) the 2010 Act so far as they are relevant in relation to the proposal. Accordingly, the School Closure Review Panel refuses consent in accordance with section 17(C)(1)(a) of the 2010 Act.”
In his judgement, Sheriff James Tierney said
“For all the reasons I have given I consider that on the evidence it considered, having regard to the provisions of the 2010 Act, and applying Lady Smith’s test to the whole matter, except for the evidence and findings relating to the nursery classes, the Panel has not erred in law, and its final disposal as set out in para 51 cannot be faulted.
In all the circumstances the appeal fails and I have pronounced the interlocutor which is on page 1 hereof.”
The Sheriff’s judgment in full can be found at http://www.scotcourts.gov.uk/search-judgments/judgment?id=09b808a7-8980-69d2-b500-ff0000d74aa7.