Intelligent Biped is a forum for discussing ideas, issues and solutions with a focus on our inherent human characteristics of cleverness and kindness. This forum is called "intelligent biped" because I believe kindness and cleverness to be interdependent at a biological level. Simply put, bipedal animals can't have big brains without fundamental kindness and nurturing. This forum will share and discuss issues, ideas and solutions that use and enhance our inherent cleverness and kindness amongst the chaos of everyday life.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Thoughts on the Row over the Rowers ... Putting the Just in Justice

So, a news story dominating our headlines over the last few weeks has been that of a couple high school rowers who acted like a pair of delinquents at an airport on the way to an important rowing event, the Maadi Cup.  The parents of the pair applied for a Judicial Review of the decision and won an interim injunction enabling their sons to attend the Maadi Cup.

Following the granting of the interim injunction, the row that erupted has centred on the applicability of the Code of Conduct and of the school's ability to enforce rules.  The opinion piece:   "St Bede's parents High Court action 'stinks of self-entitlement' " in the Press 23 March, 2015 is typical pronouncing basically that rules are rules and the school has no choice but to ban the students from their sport, regardless of the consequences.  Other headmasters have launched in support of the school's decision made on "publically available facts" (Nelson headmaster slams 'infantile' St Bede's parents, Nelson Mail, 24 March, 2015).  On Radio New Zealand, the decision has been slammed as "dangerous" and degraded the right of a school to discipline pupils by the St Bede's Principal and the Principals Federation has come out saying that kids won't now need to obey rules.

So before we all lock our doors for fear of lawless high school rowers in the streets, it is interesting to note that none of this furore is actually relevant to the High Court decision.  This is not a decision that has anything to do with the enforcement of a breach of a Code of Conduct.  It is a decision about the process of finding that there was a breach of the Code of Conduct.

The High Court decision is about natural justice

Natural justice is telling the person affected by a disciplinary process about the case against them and hearing what they have to say.  It is also telling the person to be affected by a proposed outcome what is likely to happen and hearing their view on the proposed punishment.

In this case, the decision was reached and the punishment meted out on the basis of an email from the coach.  It was this that destroyed the integrity of the decision.

Yes, breaching airport security is a very serious issue.  However, unless we're going to revert to lynch mobs to resolve problems, then the more serious the issue, the more natural justice should loom large.

All it would have taken is a couple of phone calls.  Maybe a Skype or Oovoo conference call with parents, pupils and the principal.  All that needed to happen was to ask :
  1. "We heard you mucked around on the carousel at the airport, what do you have to say about that?"
  2. "We are thinking about banning you from the Maadi Cup, tell us whether you think that's fair and, if not, why not?"
The outcome of the decision may have been the same, but the decision would have been of an entirely different quality.  The Principal's Federation is doing a great disservice to its membership by not using this opportunity to drive home the critical importance of natural justice.  It's not that difficult, really.

The Principal's Federation is correct in its observation that children of the wealthy do get the opportunity to go to the High Court when the poor do not, but that is true for almost every judicial review and access to justice on every level.  And if wealthy parents do not go to the High Court, not only are their kids denied natural justice, but so are the other kids who's rights are protected through the development of the law.

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