A Hong Kong court has ruled it discriminatory for a prestigious international school to require all elected board directors to speak fluent German, with the judge slamming its “messy” corporate governance. The High Court on Friday ruled in favour of the management at German Swiss International School (GSIS), which aimed to strike down the articles in its regulations barring non-German speakers from elections, after failing to do so at board meetings, where it did not secure enough votes from members. Switzerland to pull funding from German Swiss International School in Hong Kong The legal bid came after three Chinese parents were elected as board directors last year, but were given only the title of “pending director” because they did not speak German. The school agreed to remove the disputed rules after a parent filed a complaint to the Equal Opportunities Commission in February, but was unable to garner the required consent of three-fourths of its directors. The court action was met with objections from some parents and the German government, which hoped to preserve the school’s German tradition and cultural background by having solely German-speaking directors. There is no justification, and probably has not been for some considerable time, for requiring all directors to be fluent German speakers Mr Justice Jonathan Harris The GSIS receives subsidies from both the German and Swiss governments, including an annual 2.665 million euros (HK$23.5 million) from Germany that makes up almost one-tenth of its budget. On Friday, Mr Justice Jonathan Harris found it unlawful for GSIS to impose a language requirement on its directors, who were elected by parents and alumni to manage the school and approve budgets. He said the school, which teaches in German and English, had practically allowed solely parents from the German stream to take control of its corporate matters, while more than 70 per cent of its students study under the English stream. “There is no justification, and probably has not been for some considerable time, for requiring all directors to be fluent German speakers and, thus, excluding the majority of members from standing for election,” Harris said. The discriminatory regulations contravened the Race Discrimination Ordinance, the judge said, because GSIS was within the definition of a club, which was governed by the legislation. However, he said he was unable to decide whether non-German-speaking parents who were elected as directors in previous meetings should be deemed validly appointed members of the board, because he found the meetings had been corrupted by the directors’ long-standing misunderstanding of the election rules. Harris also found that the school’s governance was hampered by poorly drafted provisions, including one that purportedly empowered the German consulate to approve amendments to the regulations. He observed that the German government, via its consulate, had attempted to intervene in the present case by having a parent who joined the proceedings in opposition relay the government’s views to the court, but stressed its views bore no weight on the court’s ruling. “The interpretation of the articles and any question concerning the contravention by any article of the [Race Discrimination] Ordinance is a matter of Hong Kong law … The German government may be unhappy with how the disputes between members [have] developed, but that does not give it a right to intervene in the dispute,” Harris said. Other provisions that purportedly granted administrative powers to the German and Swiss consulates also called into question whether the consul generals acted as “shadow directors” at the school, the judge added. A GSIS statement said the German-speaking requirement on its directors had been “a matter of divisiveness and legal concerns for several years”. Roland Muksch, who chairs the board, was quoted saying: “Discrimination in whatever form has no place in a school in this time and age. This should bring an end to years of unjust governance and divisiveness and we hope that our community can start to heal from here on.” GSIS did not comment on the judge's criticisms about the school's governance, saying it was still studying the court's decision. The Post has contacted the German and Swiss consulates for comment. The school, which was established in 1969 and has campuses on The Peak and in Pok Fu Lam, provides education from kindergarten to secondary level, with annual tuition fees ranging from HK$156,000 (US$20,000) to HK$203,000. It is famous among the city’s elite, with notable graduates including Leung Chai-yan – daughter of former Hong Kong chief executive Leung Chun-ying – and lawmaker Eunice Yung Hoi-yan.