…seeks judicial review of order to close down Leone Preparatory School
October 9, 2015 By Alusine Sesay
The Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law (CARL) says it had filed a lawsuit in September on behalf of Leone Preparatory School seeking a judicial review of an order by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology to close the private school.
The Education Ministry in July 2015 wrote a letter to the school’s authorities accusing them of contravening sections of the Education Act of 2014, but the letter did not cite the specific provisions of the law that were violated.
The school had to close down for weeks before the ugly impasse was settled, thus preventing hundreds of pupils from attending classes, after having missed the almost two-thirds of the academic year to the Ebola outbreak.
Reading a press release to members of the press, Executive Director of CARL, Ibrahim Tommy, noted that although the school had since re-opened, the outcome of the suit would provide guidance to proprietors of private educational institutions as to the extent of powers that the ministry wields.
Tommy said the suit would further seek a declaration from the court that the decision of the ministry was arbitrary as it was not supported by the laws governing education in Sierra Leone and contrary to the principle 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 education,” he said.
He observed that the order to shut down the school was issued despite the fact that children had missed school for nearly eight months due to the outbreak of the Ebola Virus Disease.
“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,” he maintained.
The CARL executive director also informed newsmen that the organisation had filed a separate suit on behalf of several other independent schools to challenge the decision of the ministry to impose a mandatory two-term academic year on private schools, as well as an order that fees be slashed by one-third, contrary to sections 46(1) of the 2004 Education Act.
The said states that “[C]harges, including fees payable in private schools, shall be fixed before the beginning of every school year and shall remain unchanged throughout that year.”
He said the decision by the ministry to impose a two-term fees has the potential to adversely affect contracts between proprietors of private schools and their employees.
“We claim that that the decision also breeched a cardinal principle of natural justice as it was made without the prior consultation with proprietors,” he said.
The suit, he said, also challenges the legitimacy of the National Board of Education, which enforced the decisions, as it was not properly constituted as required by the Education Act of 2004.
“This is a case of brazen disregard for due process by public officials because of the spate of immunity that has characterized the country. The courts are there to check-mate such excesses,” said Emmanuel Saffa Abdulai, lawyer representing the applicants.
The suit on behalf of Leone Preparatory School was filed in the High Court of Sierra Leone pursuant to Order 52 of the High Court Rules of 2007, which provides for an application for judicial review.