The case for Mr X and Miss Y

26th August 2005 at 01:00
The unexpected statement by one of Scotland's senior solicitors this week on "teachers in the firing line" (page five) is not new; nor is the issue getting its first airing. Andrew Gibb, the senior solicitor to the Educational Institute of Scotland, has expressed similar sentiments in the past following high-profile cases where teachers have been exonerated after allegations made against them by pupils have been thrown out by the courts.

There is little doubt that, as even Kathleen Marshall, the Children's Commissioner, has noted, the pendulum has swung too far in being overly protective of children to whom the teacher may have done no more than rest a comforting hand on the shoulder. The rest of the anatomy is a different matter. The commonsense view is surely that, as the teacher acts for the parent while the child is at school, the teacher should behave towards a child as any reasonable parent would do - and that may include physical contact. We must none the less recognise, as Mr Gibb has, that pupils have to be protected and that teachers are sometimes guilty as charged.

The issue of whether teachers should be granted anonymity in court cases is almost as complex. Certainly, the scale is tipped against the teacher who will have been named and shamed, even if they are eventually found not guilty, while their accuser is not identified. This situation might be seen to be on a par with that in rape cases where the victim is granted anonymity but the accused, against whom false witness might have been borne, has no such protection. The law should certainly be consistent, where possible.

But the EIS demand for automatic anonymity in such cases carries implications which take the issue beyond the ranks of teachers. They are not the only people who have to go through the ordeal of false accusations.

Doctors obviously spring to mind. Teachers cannot be the only professionals granted preferential treatment in the courts. We also have to bear in mind that we are in the era of freedom of information and anonymity for teachers in the courts might not last five minutes.

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