The first limb of the test of ‘reasonableness’ focuses on the decision-making process – that is whether the right matters have been taken into account in reaching the decision. The second focuses upon its outcome – whether, even though the right things have been taken into account, the result is so outrageous that no reasonable decision-maker could have reached it –Lady Hale, current President of the UK’s Supreme Court
I should begin by emphasising the importance I place upon all children attending school and being properly educated. I taught for many years and one of my responsibilities was completing the daily register for the children in my classes and I can assure you that there is no problem in identifying those parents who were responsible and ensured their children did attend regularly and those that cared little. We had class registers too so those children who had left the premises once they had been registered would be quickly picked up. The problem of truancy varies throughout the country (I taught in five different schools during my career) and it is clearly more difficult in some areas than others.
That said, there is no doubt that there are good reasons why children might not be at school on a particular day or at particular times. For instance, during the many years that the semi-finals of the Junior Handling competitions were held at Richmond Championship Dog Show many parents were reluctant to allow their children to have a day off school when the breeds in which they were interested were scheduled on the Friday. As a result I wrote on a number of occasions, both in Our Dogs and in Dogs Monthly, to say that the enthusiasm, dedication and skill that our Junior Handlers developed through their interest in dogs was a valuable educational exercise as well as being enjoyable competition. There are also other perfectly acceptable reasons why children should be taken out of school so long as it is not detrimental to their overall educational attainment. Children learn things when they are away from home which may well have an impact on language, history, geography and mathematics and science: I went to the Epcot Science Park two years ago Florida and even at my age learned a surprising amount during my visit.
I therefore applaud the father who refused to pay a fine on taking his daughter out of school for ten days for a family holiday given that her attendance was clearly regular and that her parents were not being irresponsible. So I was pleased, too, when the High Court confirmed that the law was not being applied reasonably. The judges sensibly ruled that the magistrates should take into account the ‘wider picture’ of the child’s attendance record outside of the dates she was absent during the holiday.
Should regulations serve or penalise a community?
By definition, regulations are designed to set boundaries of behaviour and those boundaries often require the forcing of normal and natural ‘grey areas’ into the straitjacket of black and white. This often means that the ‘wider picture’ is set aside and sensible decisions taking into account all the circumstances are ignored to save time and effort. It allows narrow minded nit-pickers to argue that they are only ‘following the rules’ but as many have observed, ‘law’ and ‘justice’ are not necessarily the same.
It is a problem not just confined to schools: every aspect of our communities are affected. For instance, what is a reasonable number of dogs to be judged before you are considered competent? If you are an experienced judge and have fulfilled all the other criteria for a particular breed but are one dog short of the number required to be passed for tickets, is it reasonable to refuse your application to be on an A3 list. Some breed clubs will look at the overall picture and reasonably come to the conclusion that one dog will not make any difference to your ability to judge the breed. Another club, perhaps in the same breed, will say that the rules specify 90 dogs and that having judged 89 is not enough. You can guess which side I am on. I believe that regulations should be applied rigidly to those who are deliberately trying to buck the system and should be applied flexibly for those who have shown that they are sensible and responsible. I understand that this requires a value judgement on behalf of those applying the rules but one hopes that they themselves are sensible, reasonable and flexible in their approach: all too often this is not the case.
There are plenty of examples
There are many breed clubs, I know, who are sensible, up-to-date and pragmatic in their approach. To give you one example, I applied to join the A3 list of a breed by email, sending a generic application form and seminar completion certificates as attached files last year. I had no response from one club (I later discovered that you have to fill in their specific form for the application to be considered) and from two I received an email telling me that their Judges Sub-committee met on a specific date each year and the application would be considered at that time and, were I to fulfil the criteria and have the support of the committee, I would be added for the forthcoming year. All well and good you might reasonably say and I should add that this was the expectation the Judges Working Party had when this system was first set up back in 1999 (I was on that working party). At that time judges list had to be updated on somebody’s computer, the list printed out and sent round to championship and other shows who expected it each year.
I submit that these days this is not good enough. From two of the clubs I had an email to say that my application would be circulated to their Judges Sub-committee. This was done and I was elected onto the A3 list: their online judges lists were updated within three weeks! Surely that is the way to do it?
These thoughts were triggered by a recent problem with a judge who some years ago was elected onto a breed club’s B list as she had judged the required number of dogs, the required number of classes, attended and passed a breed assessment and had passed a Judges Development Programme assessment for the breed (one of the most senior and highly respected judges of the breed was on the panel). She gives tickets in two breeds in the same group and is on the B lists of several other breeds in the group. The point I’m trying to make is that she is experienced.
Quite rightly, when she was asked to officiate for the breed at a championship show without tickets, she checked with the breed club to make sure she was on the list. This particular club has a ‘rule’ that people cannot be listed unless they apply to remain on it each year (although there is a three-year ‘grace’ period). In my view this is daft. I am quite happy that people should be removed from the list if they lose the confidence of the breed (i.e. do not judge according to the normal parameters, they clearly show that they do not understand the breed or they have been convicted of cruelty or fraudulent behaviour) but to expect busy all breed judges to reapply for a list every year does not seem reasonable. The Kennel Club, in allowing people to judge tickets, insists that the Judges Sub-committee confirms each appointment just in case any of the above information is relevant but they do not expect a judge that has already been passed to complete another questionnaire.
However, as I said, she did check with the breed club and was told that her name had been taken off the list because of the three-year rule but that there was an upcoming Judges sub-committee meeting and if she immediately provided all the necessary it would be discussed at the meeting. You would have thought that under the circumstances, given that she more than fulfils the criteria required by the breed club and she had been previously on the B list, she would simply have been reinstated. This was not to be.
The reason given to her was that if she was added to the list retrospectively ‘it would set a precedent for the future should anyone be late in presenting their application’. She was also told that the information will be kept on file for when the 2017 list was being compiled.
The point I would like to make is that her application was not being refused because she was not competent or capable but solely because it did not fit with a rule which, in my view (and I hope yours), is in itself unreasonable.
The way in which club lists are compiled was set up by the Judges Working Party back in 1999 and was designed specifically to enable people who felt that they were ready to judge at any particular level two apply without feeling that they were in any way ‘advertising’ their expertise or ‘asking’ for an appointment. It never occurred to us in the time that this would prevent clubs ‘talent spotting’ and inviting people to apply for lists that they felt could and should judge the breed.
I think it is time for the Kennel Club to review the relevant regulations and that the Advisory Criteria for the Compilation of Breed Club Judges Lists which was published in 2003 the updated to further emphasise the importance of clubs being ‘realistic and reasonable’.