[The following letter has been received from the parent of the Nottingham Blind Boy whose case against Nottingham Education Committee for refusing to make a grant for his education at a Liverpool Catholic Blind School was reviewed by the Bishop of Pella in the Catholic Herald on June 11.]
SIR,-I am unwilling to contradict a Bishop on any subject except through pressing necessity, and I now do so on my knees.
The Irish used to say they would take their religion from Rome, but not their politics. I reverence the Bishop of Pella as an Ecclesiastic but cannot accept him as a civil lawyer. His Lordship's very dogmatic interpretation of an Act of Parliament, for which he invokes no authority but himself, is opposed to all the legal opinions I have taken from professional lawyers... I am the interested party who have had occasion for years to investigate closely the law and the practice followed with reference to this question.
I. A solicitor in close touch, for a great many years, with the practical working of the statute on the point in question, has continually insisted throughout the last eight years that the Education Authority are liable.
2. Then experienced counsel of long standing at the Bar in London, and particularly familiar with this branch of law, advised me that the better opinion seemed to be that the authority would be bound to contribute its full share towards education in a residential school chosen by the parent.
3. Since those opinions, an eminent firm of London solicitors who have given great consideration to the case, have throughout the last two years consistently advised me that the authority are, in their opinion, liable, and have advised me as to the appropriate form of proceedings.
4. A further solicitor, whom I have since had occasion temporarily to instruct in the matter, and who has fully considered the authorities, agrees with those opinions.
5. The weight of evidence as to what is acknowledged in practice is against the Bishop.
understand that no education authority refuses to pay for any of the children at the Catholic Blind School except for My boy, and some of them, at least, come from great centres where there are undoubtedly day blind schools.
Legal commentators on S.66 of the Act of 1921 say " the limited choice of a parent is not to be circumscribed by reasons of a pecuniary nature." My solicitors agreed with me as to the relevance of this observation. And there is a well-known authority with which lawyers are familiar, to the effect that statutes for the advancement of religion and learning are to receive a liberal construction.
His Lordship refers to the old 1893 Act. As regards the practice followed, at any rate, since the 1921 Act, I have for several years made extensive enquiries of a number of residential blind schools in various parts of the country, and even irrespectively of religious motive, they all insist upon the liability of the authority to contribute for their scholars, and they report that they do so without trouble. However, whether this be relevant or not, there is a presumption with regard to the Catholic school at least, that the whole of the educa• tion authorities who act on the lines of the legal advice I have received, do so correctly in pursuance of a legal duty, and do not merely play about with public funds in acts of charity, and the onus is on those who disagree, to establish by legal authorities that the contrary is correct, which no one has done. The onus is not the other way.
No inference can reasonably be drawn from no proceedings having been taken in cases where difficulty has been made. It is fairly obvious why. The unfortunate parents of the afflicted children who would have to pay the piper, like myself, would naturally (if not fools) hesitate to embark on expensive litigation against Public Bodies, having at their disposal, unlimited public funds with which to make case law in the final court, the House of Lords. The contest would be most unequal. And anyone acquainted with litigation knows that even in the event of success, a litigant usually has to incur certain solicitor and client costs beyond the party, and party costs allowed against the other side, and one can imagine what those would be in a case which went to the House of Lords. He would be a bold parent who would face It. Public bodies in fact enjoy a charmed life. For instance, a claim can be barred by the Public Authorities' Protection Act if proceedings are not commenced within six months; also in the event of the authority succeeding they are by that Act allowed costs on a more generous principle than those ordinarily allowed to an individual.
It is a smaller evil for the parent to lie down under the injustice than to take proceedings. Moreover, how could His Lordship possibly know that no one has taken proceedings for a Mandamus? Such an application, even if it went right on to a hearing after the proceedings had been originated, would not necessarily figure as a " reported case " (and cases often get settled before the hearing). You were correct in saying that this evil calls for parliamentary reform. but where is one likely to find a Catholic M.P. willing to raise it?
I cannot accept His Lordship's ipse dixit.
His Lordship's views would seem to give rise to a curious situation. Imagine the case of a Catholic blind child in a great city where there are many thousands of Catholics who for years have been paying large sums for the education rate, without there having previously been any instance of a Catholic Blind child. Such child could not be allowed a Catholic education because the city has a day blind school, whereas Catholic blind children living in isolated villages, where there are practically no Catholics paying any rates, can be sent to a Catholic blind residential school at the local authority's expense, as there is no day blind school. Before the Bishop's letter appeared I had written a letter showing how this education committee (which you correctly describe as " Amazing ") are now, since their school has been closed, more glaringly defying the law than before, and also clearing up some misapprehensions arising from your article of the 4th inst.... I had also shown in such letter how there is another reason besides the religious one, raising a strong case entitling me to a residential school, and setting out evidence showing how the Committee's attitude is dictated by ulterior motives instead of the consideration of the question arising under the Act, but these things would now extend this already lengthy letter beyond all permissable dimensions.