Education Secretary v Tameside BC [1977] AC 1014

Key point

  • Unreasonableness is an objective standard under which differing opinions can be reasonable, it does not mean what is subjectively wrong to the person conducting the review
  • This case also provides support for the proposition that the courts have jurisdiction to review material mistakes of fact

Facts

  • A local education authority (T) under Labour decided to bring grammar schools under its control into a comprehensive scheme
  • The Conservatives won the local authority election and reversed the policy, assessing applicants for grammar schools by reports, records and interviews, rather than exams
  • Under s.68 Education Act 1944, the Education Secretary would be entitled to direct the performance of any duty under the act if he was satisfied the local authority’s decision was ‘unreasonable’
  • The Labour Education Secretary, under s.68, directed T to implement the original comprehensive scheme policy, the divisional court granting an order of mandamus entitling him to override the local authority
  • The Divisional Court held in favour of the Education Secretary on the ground of the difficulties caused by the last minute change of policy, but the Court of Appeal held in favour of the local authority

Issue

  • Was the local authority’s decision unreasonable?

Held (Court of Appeal)

  • Appeal dismissed; the Education Secretary’s decision to reverse the education policy was unreasonable
  • s68 did not empower the Secretary of State for Education and Science to substitute his own opinion for that of the local education authority as to the course of action which it should take,  he could only give directions if, on the material before him, he was entitled to be satisfied that no reasonable local education authority would act as the authority in question was proposing to act

Lord Russell of Killowen

Meaning of unreasonable

  • Unreasonable in s.68 means ‘the course that is proposed is one that in the circumstances no reasonable local authority, with the interests at heart of the education of the young in its area, would take’: p. 1074
  • ‘to my mind it is quite unacceptable … to proceed from ‘wrong’ to ‘unreasonable.’: p. 1075
  • ‘If by statute comprehensive education is introduced throughout there will no doubt be many who will consider that it is wrong so to do: but it could not be objectively unreasonable, whatever the disruptions resulting from introduction into selected entry schools of non-selected entry primary school children, or the move of 16-year-old children to a different school, or any other change’: p. 1075

Lord Wilberforce

Mistake of fact

  • ‘In many statutes a minister or other authority is given a discretionary power and in these cases the court’s power to review any exercise of the discretion, though still real is limited. In these cases it is said that the courts cannot substitute their opinion for that of the minister: they can interfere on such grounds as that the minister has acted right outside his powers or outside the purpose of the Act, or unfairly, or upon an incorrect basis of fact.’

Commentary

  • The judgment applied the concept of Wednesbury reasonableness, which is a ground of judicial review, to the Secretary of State’s define the grounds upon which the Secretary could conduct administrative review of local authorities
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