Last edited: December 08, 2004

Public School Heads Could Be Sued for Banning Gay Sex

Electronic Telegraph, March 29, 2000

By Rachel Sylvester

Public schools have been warned that they could be sued under new human rights legislation if they ban homosexual relationships between pupils over 16 or force pupils to go to chapel.

The Independent Schools Information Service has told head teachers that they could be vulnerable to legal challenge under the Human Rights Act, which comes into force in October. Schools were told that they could be taken to court if they refused to allow pupils over 16 to have homosexual relationships under article 8, which protects privacy.

Legislation to equalise the age of consent for gay men and heterosexuals will also be on the statute book by the summer. Forcing pupils to go to church could also open schools to legal action for "religious discrimination". The legal advice came in advance of a speech today by Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, who will warn all private organisations which perform "public functions" that they will be as legally bound by the Act as public bodies.

Private schools, hospitals, nursing homes and charities could all be taken to court if they do not do more to prepare for the Act, which incorporates the European Convention on Human Rights into British law. Mr. Straw will say in a speech to the Institute for Public Policy Research: "The Act will not only affect individuals, it will affect any organisation dealing with the public."

About 100 heads attended a briefing on the issue by a human rights lawyer at a recent conference of the Society of Headmasters and Headmistresses of Independent Schools. Robert Boyd of Veale Wasbrough, a law firm, warned heads that they could face legal challenge on the grounds of "religious discrimination" if they forced pupils to go to chapel.

Although the Government put a clause into the Human Rights Act to protect the rights of religious organisations, lawyers do not believe this would apply to independent schools. Head teachers were also advised that pupils could demand the right to challenge the rules on uniform or insist on cross-dressing under article 10 on freedom of expression.

Schools could be sued if a pupil claimed that a punishment was not "proportionate". They could also be challenged on the grounds of "degrading treatment" for forcing pupils to take early runs followed by cold showers. Frances Butler, a lawyer working for the IPPR, said "fagging" - in which older boys ask younger ones to perform duties - would also be illegal under the Act. She said: "Forcing a younger boy to cook sausages or run up and down stairs is clearly degrading treatment."

Dick Davison, a spokesman for ISIS, said: "Schools are aware that the Human Rights Act will require them to examine a number of aspects of the way they operate." Home Office sources said Mr. Straw had no views on specific practices and "it will be for the courts to decide" whether schools were breaking the law.

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