A NEW CODE for school managers and governors of Catholic voluntary schools in the Westminster archdiocese will be circulated in the next two or three weeks as a result of a campaign waged for the last seven months by Fr Robert Gates, the parish priest of Holy Cross Church, Parsons Green, West London.
Fr Gates has asked for
clarification about the legal liabilities of school managers and governors. He wants formal reassurance that the diocese will accept liability for any litigation charges incurred in the course of school managers' duties.
The archdiocese's delay in supplying such an assurance has led to the resignation of all the managers of the Holy Cross Primary School who were appointed by the archdiocese.
Fr Gates explained on Tuesday that he had been prompted to take up the problem of responsibility. for litigation charges by a circular from the Inner London Education Authority.
The circular dealt with the charges which might be incurred by managers or governors when parents of pupils were involved in divorce cases which might necessitate teachers giving evidence in court.
Fr Gates also pointed out that the managers of voluntary schools were technically in the place of the employers and so might find themselves liable in eases of race or sex discrimination as well as in legal disputes. "If managers have to take legal advice, who will foot the bill?" he asked.
The campaign for a guaranteed indemnity for legal fees incurred by school managers was pursued by means of a series of letters to the Westminster Schools Commission and to Mgr Ralph Brown, the Vicar-General of the archdiocese.
Mgr Brown said Fr Gates had raised an interesting point, which drew attention to the need for a formal legal framework. He stressed that action was being taken on it.
He said he -hoped a document would soon be produced which would clearly delineate the legal responsibilities of the diocesan trustees and the' responsibilities of school managers and governors.
He added that the problem of legal liability of managers had national implications.
Mr W. A. Elfer, the secretary of the Westminster Schools' Commission, said he had every sympathy for Fr Gates' wish to see a watertight document covering any liability for legal fees, and gave his assurance that a suitable formula was being sought. However, he added that he felt Fr Gates' worries were not entirely well-founded. "If school managers become liable for expenses which are beyond the means of their fund then they would ask for assistance from the diocesan solicitors.
"In any ease in the past where help has been needed, the diocese has given assistance."
Fr Gates' argument is that if the diocese was ready to give such automatic help he would have been given a conclusive reply to his query about managerial liabilities several months ago.