Teaching assistant wins right to legal representation at disciplinary hearing

In January the Court of Appeal confirmed that a voluntary-aided school should have allowed legal representation to a teaching assistant who was dismissed for sexual misconduct. Both the governors of the school and the local education authority were involved in the decision to deny legal representation that was requested because of the "lifetime disadvantage" he faced. Late in 2008 the High Court said that the decision of the disciplinary committee should be set aside because it was reached in breach of his human rights, a ruling that the Court of Appeal has now confirmed.

The teaching assistant, known as G to preserve his anonymity, won his argument that Article 6 of the Human Rights Convention (the right to a fair trial) entitled him to legal representation both at the disciplinary hearing and at any appeal. Being found guilty of the charges at the disciplinary stage was bound to have a profound influence on whether the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) subsequently decided to bar him from working with children. Although Article 6 would not offer him this protection if only his current job were at stake, legal representation should be granted when the allegations were career threatening.

This decision will have a significant impact on the way disciplinary proceedings are managed in schools, and in other specialised jobs in the local authority sector involving work with children or vulnerable adults. Whether legal representation should be allowed will depend on the gravity of the allegation and whether a referral to the ISA is likely to be made. Similar considerations may apply to other professionals working in the public sector who do not work with children or vulnerable adults but who would face sanctions from their professional body if they were dismissed for misconduct.