Lifetime teaching bans for two staff members who worked at a "Trojan Horse" school have been quashed on appeal, with a judge accusing the teachers' standards watchdog of "serious procedural irregularity".
A High Court judge threw out the indefinite classroom bans against former teachers Inamulhaq Anwar and Akeel Ahmed on Thursday, after an appeal was brought against the education secretary and the National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL).
The men had appealed the bans which were originally imposed by the NCTL, the teaching professional standards body and an executive agency of the Department for Education (DfE), earlier this year.
Giving his ruling in Birmingham, Mr Justice Stephen Phillips voiced "considerable doubt" about the fairness of the NCTL hearing.
He allowed the appeal because of the failure of both the NCTL and the hearing's independent three-member panel to disclose or order disclosure of key evidence to the men's lawyers.
At a hearing on February 19 this year, the NCTL panel concluded that both men had agreed with others on or before March 2014 to the inclusion of "an undue amount of religious influence in pupils' education" at Park View Academy in Alum Rock in Birmingham.
Park View – part of the now-defunct Park View Educational Trust – was at the centre of anonymous allegations which claimed there was a wider plot by Muslim hardliners to take control of several Birmingham schools.
The allegations sparked investigations by several agencies, including the Department for Education and Ofsted, and several hearings by the NCTL.
But in a lengthy 14-page ruling handed down on Thursday, the High Court judge said the NCTL's actions in bringing the case against Mr Anwar and Mr Ahmed risked "casting serious doubt on the fairness of the findings" against both men.
The judge said a decision by the NCTL to pursue the two teachers separately to an ongoing NCTL hearing against five of Park View's senior leadership team (SLT) had risked "inconsistent decisions" being made by the standards' organisation.
The other hearing, involving the school's ex-headteacher Monzoor Hussain, executive head Lindsey Clark and former assistant head Arshad Hussain, together with Hardeep Saini and Razwan Faraz, is still continuing in front of a different NCTL panel but has adjourned until the end of the year.
The judge said that while it "made sense" for the NCTL to have a separate hearing for the senior headteachers, the standards' body's decision not to conclude that case first had cast considerable doubt on the fairness of the hearing against the trust's more junior employees, Mr Anwar and Mr Ahmed.
'Doubts over fairness'
Mr Justice Phillips added: "I have considerable doubt as to the fairness of proceeding first against teachers such as the appellants [Mr Anwar and Mr Ahmed]."
He went on: "The risk of inconsistent decisions, casting serious doubt on the fairness of the findings against the appellants, is obvious and, indeed, such an outcome remains a distinct possibility."
But explaining his decision to allow the men's appeals, the judge concluded that a decision to hear their case first meant the NCTL "was obliged to disclose material" from its ongoing case against the senior staff, but had failed to do so.
He added: "In the absence of voluntary disclosure [by the NCTL], the panel should have directed that it be given."
Mr Justice Phillips said: "The question of what constituted an undue amount of religious influence was plainly a major issue in the SLT proceedings and the appellants should have been made aware of the nature and extent of the arguments and evidence being advanced by the SLT in that regard.
"The fact that the appellants could have served their own reports does not absolve the NCTL of their disclosure obligation."
He added: "The failure of the NCTL to give [and of the panel to order] the disclosure outlined above was, in my judgment, a sufficiently serious procedural irregularity to render the proceedings against the appellants unjust. On that basis both appeals must be allowed."
Giving his ruling, the judge said: "For the reasons set out above these appeals are allowed and the prohibition orders made against the appellants will be set aside."
Regarding any potential new hearing against Mr Anwar and Mr Ahmed, he added: "In the event that the NCTL invites me to order a new hearing I will hear further argument from the parties in that regard, as well as on any other consequential issues which arise."