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COUNTY'S STUDENT GRANT POLICY LEGAL, HIGH COURT RULES

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case number: CO/1861/94 ...
case number: CO/1861/94

A claim that Warwickshire CC is operating a 'blanket ban' on discretionary grant awards to post graduate students has been rejected by a high court judge.

In London's high court, Mr Justice Schiemann dismissed Sheffield University law student Simon Williams' case against the council's grants policy.

Mr Williams claimed he will be thousands of pounds in debt by the time he qualifies.

There was nothing unlawful in the council's policy not to award discretionary grants save in 'exceptional circumstances', ruled the judge.

Mr Williams was not the first to attack the council's grants policy: in May last year Mr Justice Judge upheld the case of another Warwickshire law student - June Collymore - who has since been awarded a grant.

In Ms Collymore's case, the judge found that the policy had been 'implimented far too rigidly' with the result that not one single discretionary grant had been made under its terms.

But Mr Justice Schiemann said June Collymore's case had brought a change in the county council's approach.

An appeals procedure was now in place and criteria had been set for assessing the 'exceptional circumstances' in which discretionary grants would be made.

The judge observed that the number of grants actually awarded to Warwickshire post graduate students under the new criteria remained few.

Between July 29 and November 28 last year, 168 applications for discretionary grants had been made of which 69 went to appeal, with four grants being awarded in addition to the 'ex gratia' award to Ms Collymore.

The judge agreed that parliament cannot have intended that a student's entitlement to a discretionary grant should be determined simply by the part of the country from which he or she comes.

But he rejected claims that the council had misconstrued its duties and had used its discretion to thwart the policy and objects of the Education Act.

'Parliament has left it to the local authorities to decide to whom to distribute public bounty', said the judge, adding that the council's policy was sufficiently flexible to be lawful.

There was 'nothing irrational' in a policy which denied grants to students who could obtain funding - by bank loans or otherwise - from alternative sources.

Also rejected were claims that the council was under a statutory duty to make specific budgetary provision for the award of discretionary grants.

Mr Williams, who was legally aided, had his application for judicial review dismissed, but his counsel, David Pannick QC, said he might wish to take his case to the Court of Appeal.

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