Southwark’s top councillor has slammed a prominent lawyer threatening to sue the council over education provision for poor pupils during the coronavirus crisis.
QC Jolyon Maugham told the Guardian newspaper this week that his Good Law project intended to take legal action against local authorities including Southwark on behalf of parents.
He said that local authorities had a duty to ensure disadvantaged children had access to laptops and internet connections for online learning.
Mr Maugham, himself a Southwark resident, had previously hit the headlines for clubbing a fox to death in his back garden while wearing his wife’s kimono. He has also been prominent in regulatory cases made against Uber.
“Local authorities in England have a clear obligation to ensure that all children can access teaching, so there’s a very strong claim against them to ensure that they are doing so,” he told the newspaper.
“Southwark is an inner-city local authority with a high percentage of children eligible for free school meals who we know to be unable to effectively access education online.”
The shift to online education after the schools closure last month has forced some schools in the borough to fundraise to be able to provide their pupils with access to materials.
Among them are Compass School, in Bermondsey, which has launched an appeal for businesses to supply their students with laptops to allow access to lessons.
The SE16 school says the majority of its students are on free school meals and may lack IT equipment at home. The appeal has reached more than £11,000 at the time of writing.
When contacted by the News on Tuesday, council leader Peter John reacted with dismay to Mr Maugham’s intention to back legal action against the council.
Referencing Mr Maugham’s well-publicised ‘fox killing’, Cllr John said: “I suggest he concentrate on rehabilitating himself rather than causing more problems.
“My heart sinks when I hear people say they’re going to take legal action at a time like this.
“We’re living in extraordinary circumstances. No-one wants to see anyone going without or suffering more than necessary.
“Threatening legal action isn’t the way to solve it. Let’s just see if we can find a solution rather than trying to win legal cases.”
The legal challenge has been backed by the headteacher of Charles Dickens primary school in Borough.
Mr Maugham launched a fundraiser to support his litigation as the News went to press. The appeal states that lawyers will write to Southwark to notify it of its intent to sue.
It also states that lawyers will write to the Secretary of State for Education demanding central government give local authorities extra funding to help with provision.
It is estimated around one million children do not have access to adequate devices or internet connections at home.