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The High Court has given an important decision on the apparent bias principle in relation to statutory decision-making processes.

The appellant was a teacher who appealed against the Secretary of State’s decision to make a prohibition order preventing him from teaching. The order was made on the recommendation of a professional conduct panel which had held a hearing on allegations that the appellant had made persistent unwanted contact with a colleague. The panel upheld the allegations and concluded that they amounted to unacceptable professional conduct and/or conduct that may bring the teaching profession into disrepute.

The appellant challenged each stage of decision-making: the panel’s findings of fact and findings of misconduct, and the Secretary of State’s decision to make a prohibition order in light of those findings. Of broader interest, the appellant also argued that it was unlawful for the decision to be taken on the Secretary of State’s behalf by the Chief Executive of the Teaching Regulation Agency (TRA), on the basis that the TRA is the ‘prosecutor’ of teachers, which investigates allegations and presents cases before the panel. The appellant argued that this resulted in the decision-maker being automatically disqualified because he was acting as judge in his own cause and/or that his position as Chief Executive of the TRA created an appearance of bias such as to vitiate the decision.

William Davis J rejected these arguments. He held that the ‘judge in one’s own cause’ principle only applies to judicial decisions, whereas this was an administrative decision by the Secretary of State made by reference to his ministerial duty. Further, applying the Porter v Magill test for apparent bias, the fair-minded and informed observer would not conclude that there was a real possibility that the decision-maker was biased. The TRA is not a prosecuting authority in the same sense as the CPS, and therefore there was no analogy with the general rule against CPS employees sitting on juries.

The Court also dismissed the appellant’s arguments which challenged the panel’s findings and the Secretary of State’s decision on the appropriate sanction.

The judgment is available here.

Iain Steele acted for the Secretary of State.