Ballinteer Community School: Appendix 4 Principles of Natural Justice
Procedural fairness is a basic right of all individuals dealing with authorities. All communities have a legitimate expectation that schools (Board of Management, Principals and teaching staff) will follow these principles in all circumstances, particularly when dealing with suspensions and expulsions.
Procedural fairness is generally recognised as having two essential elements.
The right to be heard which includes:
- The right to know why the action is happening.
- The right to know the way in which the issues will be determined.
- The right to know the allegations in the matter and any other information which will be taken into account.
- The right of the person against whom the allegations have been made to respond to the allegations.
- The right of an appeal.
The right of a person to an impartial decision which includes:
- The right to impartiality in the investigation and decision making phases.
- The right to an absence of bias on the part of the decision maker.
As part of ensuring the right to be heard, the Principal should establish if parents/guardians would like to be accompanied by an interpreter or any other person to facilitate essential communication. And, if so, the Principal should agree to the presence of such a person at the relevant meetings.
The Principal should also ensure that students and parents/guardians have access to policies and procedures under which action is being taken.
While it is generally preferable for the functions of investigating and deciding to be carried out by different people, in the school setting this may not always be possible.
If the Principal is conducting both the investigative and decision making stages, he/she must be reasonable and objective. Ultimately, the Principal must act justly and be seen to act justly. While it is difficult to combine the roles of investigator and adjudicator, given the nature of the Principal’s responsibilities, there may at times be no alternative to the Principal exercising both roles.
Nevertheless, it is preferable to have another appropriate officer, such as the Deputy Principal or Assistant Principal, carry out the investigation, if possible. The availability of a line of appeal to a more senior officer adds to the fairness of the process and offers a check in case there is a perception of a conflict of interest.
To ensure the elements of procedural fairness are met, it is appropriate to provide students and their parents/guardians with details of all allegations relating to the incident. This usually will involve providing copies of any relevant statements. Should the Principal be of the view that it is not appropriate to provide copies of statements, for example, because of a fear that witnesses may be intimidated, full details of the allegations outlined in the statements should be provided.
In matters where a long suspension or expulsion is contemplated, the gravity of the circumstances requires particular emphasis being given to procedural fairness. This includes the availability of a support person/observer at formal interviews, the key features of which should be taken down in writing.
These procedures have been developed within NEWB Guidelines on Developing a Code of Behaviour.