Human Rights Challenge to Proposed Isle of Man Bill

What’s been said?

Manx Independent carried the following article by Sam Turton on 20 June, New Education Bill goes against human rights say lawyers, with the online version appearing on IoM Today, Education news, from 25 June.

Two home educating parents, Tristram Llewellyn-Jones and Voirrey Baugh, had instructed Quinn Legal to evaluate the compatibility of those sections of this Bill relating to home education with the 2001 Human Rights Act.

Under section 24 of the 2001 Act, parents are responsible for ensuring that their child of compulsory school age receives a “suitable education”, and for notifying the Department of Education, Sport & Culture (DESC) of this. The Act also details measures which the Department may take “if it appears” that the child is not receiving a proper education.

Turton notes that “In July 2017, the DESC confirmed it has never been required to use these powers,” before highlighting several changes in the proposed new legislation of concern to Quinn Legal.

In summary these include: downgrading the weight to be attached to parental wishes; the imposition of a duty upon a parent of a HE child to provide the DESC with any information requested; the increase of the maximum penalty for breaching an SAO; the imposition of a duty upon DESC to carry out educational development assessments of HE children.

In the lawyers’ view, these contravene article 8 of the Human Rights Act in regard to “the right to respect for private and family life, home and correspondence.” They questioned DESC’s justification of the changes as being a “press [sic] social need”, queried the “safeguarding risk of isolation from professionals” and referenced a 2016 Supreme Court ruling that “Within limits, families must be left to bring up their children in their own way.”

Turton’s report is in response to oral evidence presented on 14 June to the Social Affairs Policy Review Committee of the IoM Parliament (Tynwald) by Mr Llewellyn-Jones. (Other HE parents representing the Manx Home Education Association had already helpfully addressed a wide range of practical issues relating to HE in their earlier appearance at this session, but their evidence is not referenced in the article.)

In a cogently argued presentation followed by questions, Mr Llewellyn-Jones chose to major on the legal technicalities of the legislation and the human rights opinion from Quinn Legal. He explained how the new Education Bill is “a straight breach of the IoM Human Rights Act”, saying that this “needed to be articulated by a local Manx advocate.” He reaffirmed the fact that education is the responsibility of parents, and addressed the necessary tension between the rights of parents and those of the state in the light of the phrase “if it appears”. He pointed out the difference between a greater degree of suspicion and greater actual risk, and challenged the need for change in the present law, given the lack of any real evidence.

Why does it matter?

Previous background to the present situation can be accessed in several Bytes, including this reminder about why it is important for home educators in other parts of the UK to follow developments in the IoM. The dangers of this proposed Bill have been highlighted because, if passed as it stands in the IoM, this would set a precedent for EHE legislation in other parts of the UK.

It’s encouraging to know that HE parents on the IoM have been working very hard over a number of years to monitor political developments there relating to HE. Those from the MHEA described to the committee how they tried for some time to establish meaningful communication with the Department, but this has now broken down without any explanation.

The written text of the evidence sessions is not yet available, but audio files are available for MHEA and Llewellyn-Jones. They are well worth hearing, as the issues raised in both are largely applicable to HE in other parts of the UK, as well as shedding light on the IoM situation.

What can I do?

As a recent Byte on the work of the HE network in N. Ireland reminds us, hard work does pay off. But there are rarely any short cuts, as prevailing prejudices and illogical assumptions have to be dismantled and thoroughly challenged.

Listen to the audio files of the IoM evidence to hear how others have gone about this.

All of us have a sphere of influence where we can seek to do the same – whether we work from the top down or the bottom up. We can (as many have recently done) respond to government consultations, we can engage with our friends and family, our local authority, our MP. It’s important not to let our efforts run out of steam.