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Judgment: Phillipstown School Trustees v Minister of Ed

IN THE HIGH COURT OF NEW ZEALAND

CHRISTCHURCH REGISTRY

CIV 2013-409-1266

[2013] NZHC 2641

BETWEEN BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF PHILLIPSTOWN SCHOOL
Plaintiff

AND THE MINISTER OF EDUCATION
Defendant

Hearing: 30 September and 1 October 2013

Appearances: M Chen and D Gardiner for Plaintiff

K L Clark QC and S McKechnie for Defendant

Judgment: 9 October 2013

JUDGMENT OF FOGARTY J

...

Summary

[1] The Board of Trustees of Phillipstown Primary School (Phillipstown) has applied to the High Court for orders to set aside the Minister of Education’s decision to merge the school with Woolston Primary School (Woolston), on Woolston’s site.

[2] The Education Act imposes on the Minister a consultation process before she can merge or close a school. The requirements of consultation are not defined in the Act. Rather they are set by the common law. Persons being consulted need to know the reasons for the proposed decision, so that they can respond meaningfully.

[3] The consultation process started with a clear presentation to the Board of the reasons for merger with Woolston, then onto the Linwood College site. The process thereafter failed the requirements of the law in two respects. First, the importance of cost of Phillipstown continuing on its site was mistakenly played down. Second, for a miscellany of reasons, the financial information being relied upon by the Minister was not reasonably broken down and explained in a manner which would have enabled a critique. These two failures of process led the Board to not make submissions on the costs, other than to complain about the inadequacy of information.

[4] These failures of process mean that the Minister has not lawfully merged Phillipstown with Woolston. Her decision is declared unlawful and is not valid. The Crown has advised the Court that closure of the school was not inevitable. The unintended errors of process can be corrected by the consultation process being resumed, before the Minister makes another decision.

[5] The Board is entitled to costs.

Full judgment: Board_of_Trustees_of_Phillipstown_School_v_Minister_of_Education_2013101.pdf

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