CARL files lawsuits challenging decisions against private schools by Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Education
Freetown, 5th October, 2015 – The Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law (CARL) in September filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Leone Preparatory School seeking a judicial review of the Ministry of Education’s order in July that the school be closed. The suit was filed with the High Court of Sierra Leone pursuant to Order 52 of the High Court Rules 2007. The applicant is the Leone Preparatory School. The respondents are the Minister of Education and the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice.
The suit seeks a declaration that the decision by the Ministry of Education was contrary to law and the principles of natural justice. It also seeks an order declaring that the action was disproportionate, excessive and that it unjustifiably deprived hundreds of pupils of their right to an education. The order to shut down the school was issued despite the fact that the children had missed school for nearly eight months due to the Ebola virus disease outbreak.
“At the heart of this matter is respect or lack of it for rule of law. This is a country of laws, which is why we have asked the court to review the action of the Ministry of Education to determine whether their action was an attempt to exercise powers that the law does not grant them,” said Ibrahim Tommy, Executive Director, Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law.
In July, officials of the Ministry of Education wrote a letter to the school authorities accusing them of contravening sections of the Education Act 2004, even though the letter failed to cite which provisions of the law were violated. Although the school has since been reopened, the outcome of this suit will provide guidance to proprietors of private educational institutions regarding the extent of the powers that the Ministry of Education wields. The suit also seeks an order declaring that the decision to close down the school was arbitrary, and is not supported by the laws governing education in Sierra Leone.
CARL has also filed a separate suit on behalf of several other independent schools to challenge the decision of the Ministry of Education to impose a mandatory two-term academic year on Private schools, as well as the order that fees be slashed by a third, contrary to Section 46(1) of the Education Act of 2004. This decision has the unfortunate potential of adversely affecting the contracts between proprietors of Private Schools and their employees. We claim that the decision also breached a cardinal principle of natural justice as it was made without prior consultation with the proprietors. The suit also challenges the legitimacy of the National Board of Education, which is enforcing these decisions, as it is not properly constituted as required by the Education Act of 2004.
“This is a case of a brazen disregard for due process by public officials because of the spate of impunity that has characterized the country. The courts are there to check mate such excesses”, said Emmanuel Saffa Abdulai, the lawyer representing the applicants.
The law allows the Ministry of Education to ensure that minimum standards are met by all schools in the country especially government-assisted schools, but does not empower it to order the closure of private schools without due process. The Minister does have great authority over Government schools, which can be better used to improve the quality of education offered in government schools.
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