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Thursday, 05 July 2018

Council told to apologise to mother who was victim of honour-based violence

Written by Alison Kershaw

A council has been told to apologise for acting unfairly towards a mother who wanted to move her son to a new school after she was the victim of "honour"-based violence.

Nottingham City Council failed to follow proper procedures and subjected the woman to an inappropriate line of questioning during an appeal over a school place for her child, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGO) found.

The council said it "regrets any distress" and is "sorry that she feels an injustice has occurred".

The mother, known only as Mrs D, applied for a Year 5 school place for her son outside their catchment area because she had been a victim of "honour"-based violence and wanted the youngster to go to a school that no other members of the family attended, according to a report by the Ombudsman.

The application was refused because the school was full, and Mrs D decided to appeal to an independent panel.

But at the second stage of the appeal hearing, the mother faced an "adversarial" cross-examination on why she had chosen this particular school and why she believed there were no family members attending it, the report says.

"There was fault in the way this panel was run primarily in relation to the adversarial questioning," it concludes.

"We consider, on balance, this resulted in the appellant not receiving a fair hearing."

To "remedy the injustice", the Ombudsman recommended that the council apologise to Mrs D, arrange a fresh appeal hearing, and ensure that appeal staff are properly trained and understand their legal role and responsibilities under the school admissions code.

Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said: "School appeals panels are not courts of law - and parents should not be cross-examined as though they are witnesses taking the stand. The level of questioning this mother had to face was not appropriate for an admissions appeal.

"It is for the panel to consider whether admitting another child to the school would have a significant effect on those pupils already in attendance, not for it to 'prove' someone's case is wrong.

"Nottingham City Council now need to revisit the report I have issued, learn from it and take the actions I have recommended to remedy the situation for the family."

Nick Lee, head of access and inclusion at Nottingham City Council, said: "We regret any distress that was experienced by the appellant and are sorry that she feels an injustice has occurred.

"We believe that the service we provide is fair and balanced. The appellant provided substantial written submissions for the hearing and also gave verbal statements.

"All information submitted by her was taken into account by the appeal panel, which is independent of the City Council, when reaching its decision.

"Nottingham City Council always takes decisions of the Ombudsman seriously and, following substantial re-drafting of the report after concerns were raised by the Council, we will comply with its recommendations.

"We will also review our processes in light of the Ombudsman's comments as we would always do."

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Tim Goode / PA Wire.