Principal loses legal action against union

29th November 1996 at 00:00
The principal of Borders College has lost his legal action against the Educational Institute of Scotland, writes Neil Munro. The decision by the Court of Session means the union will not be forced to divulge the names of its members at the college who prepared a dossier containing allegations of serious mismanagement against the college's leadership (TESS, 22 November), unless there is a successful appeal.

Campbell Pearson, the college's principal, believes he was defamed in the statements passed to the EIS, which led to a Scottish Office investigation that eventually cleared the management of the most serious charges. Mr Pearson raised his action under the Administration of Justice (Scotland) Act 1972.

Lord Cameron of Lochbroom, delivering his judgment last week, noted Mr Pearson's acceptance that the EIS had an interest in passing the information to the Scottish Office. "It must follow that they had an interest in receiving the allegations from individuals who were (union) members.

"If that be so, it was difficult to see why it should be said that those members had no interest to pass on the allegations to their trade union in a matter concerning their employment and the management of the Borders College, their employers."

Lord Cameron pointed out that Mr Pearson did not suggest the allegations in the staff dossier were actuated by malice. "There was therefore no sufficient relevant foundation in his averments to allow the court to conclude that it was likely that civil proceedings would be taken which had any prospect of success," he added.

The judgment said the dossier was protected as a privileged communication in which the staff had a legitimate interest as college employees.

The balance lay between the interests of the union's claim to confidentiality and that of Mr Pearson, who was seeking to raise an action of defamation against named individuals. Under the Act, he would have had to prove malice on the part of the union's members without which success in any damages claim against them would be unlikely.

Mr Pearson, who has refused to comment on what he says is a personal matter, has another 14 days in which to decide whether to appeal.

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