Bury council must clarify grant allocation

Bury metropolitan council may be forced to pay exemplary damages for refusing to provide a postgraduate law student with information about the criteria it uses for allocating grants.

The council has until the end of the month to provide a written policy on discretionary grants, after a promise it made at a judicial review hearing in July 1996.

The hearing was requested by former student Jacqueline Panter after the council refused to fund her legal practice course and then failed at her

request to provide her with its criteria for allocating grants.

In December 1995, she was granted leave for judicial review and in July 1996 a judge ruled that the council must by law prepare a policy document before September 1996.

Panter's solicitor, Jaswinder Gill, senior partner at Gills in west London and a specialist in student litigation, said: "Bury's practice is contrary to good public administration. Its failure to provide a policy to address applications for grants is both window dressing and unlawful. The council should not be allowed to get away with this."

Michael Graham, the senior solicitor at Bury dealing with the case, said the education department was in the process of preparing the document, which is due to be presented at this month's committee meeting.

He said: "The reason we have not provided a written policy before is simply that we do not have sufficient funds to give discretionary grants except in very unusual circumstances."

The education officer at the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, Alan Parker, said councils should be clear about their policies and should not mislead students. He said the problem was ultimately one of policy and funding: "A student will not improve the situation by going to court. The money that is spent on judicial review proceedings could be used to fund other students."

Panter is not confident that the court proceedings will lead to the award of a grant but hopes that by forcing the council to make its policies clear future students will not be misled.