A SENIOR judge has dismissed a landmark legal challenge which claimed that ministers acted unlawfully by sacking the entire board of a Scottish college for mismanagement.
Peter Laverie was part of the Glasgow Clyde College management that was removed by Education Secretary Angela Constance, using her ministerial powers after claiming there had been "repeated incidences of failure relating to governance" at the college.
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Court papers confirmed that one of the reasons for the dismissals of the eight board members was the breaching of limits on legal expenses.
College documents show that in 2014/15, the board spent £180,000 defending its decision to suspend principal Susan Walsh - which was a breach of the Scottish Funding Council's set limit of £25,000.
Other reasons included "difficulties" with the board's relationship with students, "improper" delegation of functions to one board member, failing to replace a branch secretary timeously and failing to produce agendas for meeting between February 12, 2015 and June 25, 2015.
Mrs Walsh was suspended on full pay by former board chairman George Chalmers in February, 2015, after complaints from unions of a "perceived culture" of fear and bullying.
She was subsequently reinstated after claims of a bullying culture but announced last month she was retiring with immediate effect after a period of absence due to ill health.
The Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) said last year it was to challenge the decision arguing that Mr Laverie was democratically elected by staff to represent their interests on the board and therefore should not have been removed.
They also believed the decision - which effectively disqualifies him for life from holding similar positions with no right of appeal - breaches his human rights.
It emerged that Mr Laverie's lawyers claimed in a Court of Session judicial review that the decision to remove the board was unlawful as it failed to conform to the rules of natural justice and had "prejudiced" him.
He argued that as a teaching staff board representative, he had no personal responsibility for a perceived breakdown in relations with students and their representatives or the level of legal expenses incurred by the board.
And his legal team suggested the Cabinet Secretary clearly had in mind that the board's removal would lead to disqualification and did not wish to give them the opportunity to resign instead. Mr Laverie's legal team said: "Without seeking to minimise the importance of procedures, the complaints were all rather 'small beer'. There was no corruption or misappropriation of resources or catastrophic failure in the quality of teaching.
"Whether viewed as a matter of proportionality or one of reasonableness, there was nothing individually or cumulatively which would merit lifelong disqualification. There was a failure by the Cabinet Secretary to look at individual culpability."
But Lord Clark said it cannot be said that the Cabinet Secretary's decision was "irrational at common law" saying: "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."
He said that the college's constitution and articles of governance reveal "no doubt" about the duties of the board as a "collective unit" with "collective responsibility".
Lord Clark said: "Where the petitioner in his submissions or the board (in its responses to the Cabinet Secretary) refer to not being responsible for particular matters, this simply fails to recognise that responsibility for the management of the affairs of the college rests with the board of management.
"I am not persuaded that there is any basis for suggesting that any of the matters raised by the Cabinet Secretary and which formed the basis for the decision to remove the members of the board were not the responsibility of the board.
Of the legal expenses spending, he said it was for the board to subject this matter to scrutiny and the suggestion that it was under the control of the deputy principal, "is a demonstration of the fact that the board failed to understand or accept its role as the governing body.
"The suggestion that the petitioner had no personal responsibility for the level of expenses incurred is equally misconceived. Expenditure required to be monitored by the board," said Lord Clark.
He said it was "repeatedly made clear" in the governance and constitutional documents and legislation 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," said Lord Clark.
"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 [removal] order does not display any wrong or vindictive motive by the Cabinet Secretary."