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The Constitutional Court in South Africa recently dismissed an application from the SA Council for Educators (SACE) for leave to appeal in the case of Deon Scheepers, former principal of Grey College Secondary School. In July 2021, the Bloemfontein High Court ruled that SACE’s disciplinary committee’s intention to refer allegations against Scheepers for a hearing was “irregular and unlawful” and set it aside.
The conflict between Scheepers and the school’s governing body began in May 2018 when the governing body stripped him of his powers and members of the body lodged a complaint with SACE. In response, Scheepers successfully challenged the governing body’s decision in the high court and the Supreme Court of Appeal. As a result, the Free State Education Department appointed an independent task team to investigate the issues.
Following the investigation, the task team recommended to the head of department that Scheepers be charged for serious misconduct, however, the details of the alleged misconduct were not provided in court papers. In November 2020, after obtaining a copy of the independent task team’s report, SACE issued Scheepers a summons to appear before a disciplinary hearing in February 2021.
Scheepers then brought a review application to the Bloemfontein High Court arguing that SACE did not conduct a proper independent investigation of its own, but simply “latched” on to the independent task team’s report. The court agreed, ruling that it was “irregular and unlawful” and set it aside.
In response, SACE applied for both the High Court and the Constitutional Court for leave to appeal, however, both applications have been turned down. Acting justice Selby Baqwa ruled that while the interests of justice inquiry involves weighing varying factors, this issue “involves an evaluation of the facts” and therefore would not be applicable to all matters of this nature.
It is unclear what this decision means for Scheepers moving forward, but it is clear that the Constitutional Court is not willing to intervene in factual disputes, even when those disputes have been “clothed as a constitutional issue”