Belfast grammar school clears hurdle as it fights instruction to accept Asian boy

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A Belfast grammar school has cleared the first stage in a legal challenge to being directed to admit an Asian boy whose family was subjected to a racist attack.

The High Court rejected a bid to have the case dismissed due to alleged delays in issuing proceedings before the 12-year-old child started classes.

Granting leave to seek a judicial review, Mr Justice Maguire ruled there had been no failure to act promptly.

Anonymity orders imposed in the case prevent either the pupil or the school being identified.

The boy, whose family have been granted political asylum in the UK, scored well below the minimum entry level when he sat the AQE transfer test last year.

However, his parents applied to the Exceptional Circumstances Body (ECB) in an attempt to gain admission to the school.

They cited psychiatric trauma he suffered following an earlier racist attack on the family. No further details of the incident were disclosed in court.

The ECB considered the case twice and issued the same direction both times that the boy should be admitted to the school.

Following emergency court action taken by the family last month the school agreed to let him enter first year.

It was accepted that a legal obligation to accept the child currently exists.

But the court heard the school consented “under protest” and without prejudice to its own challenge to the ECB.

Judicial review proceedings were subsequently lodged over the alleged unlawfulness of the body’s decision-making process.

Despite conceding the school has established an arguable case, counsel for the ECB still attempted to have the court action halted.

Peter Coll QC argued today that an urgent legal challenge should have been mounted sooner.

“There’s at the very least the potential that in due course, if the school is successful in judicial review, that a new ECB direction could result in the child being placed elsewhere,” he said.

“That ominous situation should have been and must have been foreseen by the school.”

However, Mr Justice Maguire pointed out that proceedings were issued within two weeks of the ECB’s latest decision.

“The court will hold that the application has been made promptly,” he said.

“The court will grant leave in accordance with the conclusion that there’s an arguable case disclosed on the papers.”

Listing the case for a full hearing next week, the judge pledged: “We are going to act with as much promptitude as we can.”