Catholic Church

Church and state may have accord on school reform

PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 14 March, 2008, 12:00am


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The Catholic Church and the government may have found some common ground over the church's objections to education reforms that would limit how many people it could select to sit on school management committees.

At the beginning of a scheduled appeal against a November 2006 judicial review dismissing the church's complaints, it was revealed an accord of sorts was struck late on Wednesday night.

Denis Chang Khen-lee SC, for the Catholic diocese of Hong Kong, apologised to the court for failing to inform it sooner of the arrangement, which amounted to an agreement between the parties to adjourn the case to an unspecified date.

'The adjournment is necessary to advance the chances of reaching an amicable resolution on this important piece of constitutional litigation,' Mr Chang said, noting that reports of a settlement at this stage were premature.

The Court of First Instance in November 2006 dismissed the diocese's judicial review of the government's reforms on the grounds that the protection of religious freedom did not extend to giving churches a veto over public education policies. At the heart of the diocese's challenge to the reform, which was promulgated in 2004, was a requirement that school management committees switch to being incorporated entities, with teachers, parents, alumni and the community accounting for at least 40 per cent of their members.

In the past, the diocese - the sponsoring body for its government-aided schools programme - was able to nominate and install all the members of the management committee.

Mr Justice Andrew Cheung Kui-nung said at the time that, given more than 50 per cent of aided schools in the city were run by religious organisations, the church's argument would 'mean more than half of the aided schools ... are immune from whatever educational policies the government ... may formulate'.

Given the wide, constitutional implications of the case, Chief Judge of the High Court Geoffrey Ma Tao-li, sitting with Justice of Appeal Frank Stock and Mr Justice Michael Hartmann, yesterday expressed surprise that the parties believed they might be able to reach a settlement.

Mr Chang said that the reform legislation provided some flexibility in terms of allowing the parties to continue talking.