State may face damages claim over English language school register

High Court rules State acted beyond powers in setting up accreditation scheme

Two Dublin-based schools succeeded in their legal challenge against new Government accreditation requirements.  Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Two Dublin-based schools succeeded in their legal challenge against new Government accreditation requirements. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

 

The State may face a claim for damages from English language schools which failed to secure accreditation under a new register after the High Court ruled it had acted beyond its powers in setting up the scheme.

Two English language schools catering for non-EU students succeeded in their legal challenge this week against the new Government accreditation requirements.

On Thursday, Academic Bridge Ltd and the National Employee Development Centre Ltd had costs awarded in their favour and applied successfully to have the case mentioned next week on whether damages arose.

The two schools, both based in Dublin and employing a total of 17 people, claimed they could be put out of business under the new system which was due to have come into operation on January 1st.

The judgment was made against the Minister for Justice, whose department administers visas for students outside the European Economic Area.

The judgment was also made against Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI), which operates the accreditation system under the remit of the Minister for Education.

Court order

Both Ministers said their officials were examining the perfected court order delivered on Thursday. “The Government is committed to maintaining Ireland’s reputation as a high quality destination for international students, and will continue to implement all necessary reforms to protect that reputation,” they said.

The Irish Council for International Students, which has been campaigning for greater regulation of the sector after a number of school closures, has urged the Ministers to act as quickly as possible, introducing emergency legislation if needs be. “Students are seeking a straightforward, clear reference point for what courses and colleges they can trust for quality and accreditation,” the council’s spokesman Dave Moore said:

In their legal challenge the schools argued that the Minister for Justice had announced changes to the accreditation system last September without having the lawful power to do so. The court had heard the schools had been operating courses for students outside the EU/EEA and were in good standing with all the authorities.

Interim list

The system, which was due to come into force on January 1st 2015, was to be operated by QQI under proposed legislation due in either 2015 or 2016. In the meantime an interim list of eligible programmes for student immigration permission was set up.

Ms Justice Marie Baker found the Minister for Justice had “unduly fettered her discretion in limiting the set of bodies or persons that may be eligible for inclusion on the interim list”.