The High Court has rejected a judicial review bid regarding the Government’s decision to raise tuition fees on the grounds the hikes would breach the human rights of students.
Lord Justice Elias and Mr Justice King said that while the Government did not fully comply with all public sector equality duties in devising its policy on tuition fees, the breach was not enough to justify quashing the policy altogether.
The challenge was brought by teenagers Callum Hurley and Katy Moore, who were represented by Matrix Chambers’ Helen Mountfield QC, who was instructed by Sam Jacobs of Public Interest Lawyers.
Mountfield argued that the fee hikes would be a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights because they would have a “chilling effect” on the ability of those from disadvantaged social backgrounds to take up university places. Furthermore, she added, the legislation was in breach of the requirements of the public sector equality duties (PSEDs) imposed by the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, the Race Relations Act 1976, and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.
Jonathan Swift QC of 11KBW, instructed by the Treasury Solicitor for the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation & Skills, countered that the Government had adopted a range of policies in order to improve access to poorer students. According to judgment, these covered the availability of loans, high levels of maintenance support and scholarships.
The court ruled that any breach of the human rights legislation did not directly result in a disproportionate impact on those from socially disadvantaged backgrounds, taking the measures as a whole.
Elias LJ said: “If charging fees of this magnitude is unlawful, public resources will have to be provided, at the expense of other competing and pressing interests.
“Moreover, there’s an inevitable tension between widening higher education so as to catch everyone who can benefit from it whilst maintaining the highest standards, and funding that increase. In my judgment, significant leeway must be given to the democratically accountable Secretary of State as to how the objective of providing sustainable and quality higher education can be best secured.”
For the claimants Hurley and Moore: Matrix Chambers’ Helen Mountfield QC and Prof Aileen McColgan instructed by Sam Jacobs of Public Interest Lawyers.
For the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation & Skills: 11 KBW Jonathan Swift QC and Joanne Clement of the same set.