- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
A company backed by former Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying has lost its legal bid to force authorities to name teachers found guilty of professional misconduct over the civil unrest in 2019.
The High Court on Tuesday threw out a judicial review application by 803 Funds after finding the Education Bureau was “fully justified” to refuse to disclose the information and its decision was “entirely reasonable”.
“There are good reasons given by [the bureau] in the final decision why the withheld information should not be disclosed to unrelated parties like the applicant,” Mr Justice Anderson Chow Ka-ming wrote.
Do you have questions about the biggest topics and trends from around the world? Get the answers with SCMP Knowledge, our new platform of curated content with explainers, FAQs, analyses and infographics brought to you by our award-winning team.
The company, which Leung founded in 2019 to trace demonstrators involved in criminal activities, wanted to learn the identities of teachers, their schools and the nature of the misconduct relating to 39 complaint cases substantiated as of last year, with the intention of sharing the information with parents.
Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung twice rejected the company’s request to disclose the information last year, based on two grounds provided by the Code on Access to Information concerning privacy and third-party consent.
The judicial review bid raised questions about the government’s interpretation and application of the code, which provides a formal framework for accessing information held by departments and defines how it can be released.
The conduct of teachers has come under intense scrutiny in recent years. Figures provided by the bureau on Tuesday showed it investigated 269 complaints of teacher professional misconduct received between June 2019 and December last year. It found 167 of them were valid and 178 teachers were disciplined, with some of them tied to a single case. At least three educators were stripped of their registration for life.
In the 45-page ruling, the judge noted it was clear the complainants, teachers and schools had provided information – including names – to the bureau with the implicit understanding it would not be disclosed to outsiders.
Any other interpretation would have “serious implications” for the readiness of complainants to come forward and the willingness of schools and teachers to cooperate with investigations into education quality, he found.
Chow also maintained there “cannot be any serious dispute” that the bureau would breach one of the principles of the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance, which bars the use of personal data for a new purpose without the subject’s consent.
While the applicant had argued that the bureau could at least reveal the names of the schools, Chow found that doing so would “plainly be unreasonable” because such limited disclosure would be wholly unfair to the students and other teachers at the institutions, as well as seriously affect the learning environment.
The company argued that the bureau erred when balancing a host of public policy considerations, but Chow said it was in a much better position than the court to judge whether the harm from disclosure outweighed any benefit.
“Overall, [the bureau’s] decision is well within the range of reasonableness in the public law sense,” he said.
A government spokesman welcomed the ruling, saying the bureau had always adopted “a very serious and prudent approach” in handling suspected cases of misconduct to safeguard student welfare and maintain public confidence in the education system and the professionalism of teachers.
Wong Kam-leung, chairman of the pro-establishment Federation of Education Workers and a primary school principal, said the ruling should put an end to the debate over whether to identify teachers found guilty of professional misconduct. He expressed hope that education officials would continue to build trust with schools and parents.
“The court has made a decision and that ruling should be respected,” Wong said.
One veteran teacher whose school had received a complaint about his professional conduct during the anti-government protests in 2019, but which was not pursued, said he felt “relieved” after the ruling.
“I have never thought of doing or not doing anything [at school] because of needing to avoid complaints,” the teacher said. “I believe Hong Kong is still a place where people value their privacy.”
A former secondary school principal called the ruling “reasonable” and believed teachers would welcome the decision.
“It will allow [them] to worry less,” he said. “It is after all an odd move for a former chief executive to challenge the current administration through a [judicial review].”
More from South China Morning Post: