Two pupils expelled from one of Birmingham's leading state schools for a cannabis "experiment" started a High Court battle yesterday to be reinstated.
Lawyers for the teenagers, who cannot be identified, are challenging a February ruling of Birmingham City Council's Independent Appeal Panel which upheld their headmaster's decision to boot them out.
Helen Mountfield, representing the two GCSE students, told yesterday's hearing in London that a third pupil also involved had been reinstated by a differently constituted body of the IAP; she also complained that the cases had been heard separately.
Ms Mountfield told Mr Justice Beatson that a group of five boys was caught with a cannabis joint last November, and they planned to smoke it outside school premises in a games period.
All had contributed #2 to a kitty and none was deemed a "ringleader". Ms Mountfield said there was no evidence they had smoked the joint and all were "very apologetic".
But they fell foul of the school's "zero tolerance" approach to drugs - which pupils and parents are all made aware of - and were expelled before the end of 2005 by the head.
Arguing that expelling pupils for minor drug offences should be a "last resort", Ms Mountfield said guidance issued by the Department of Education suggested schools try and work with children to prevent a recurrence rather than permanently excluding them.
Launching a judicial review challenge, she said the IAP had been "inconsistent" in its approach to the different pupils, and argued that the boys and their parents should have been given the option of having their cases heard together.
Ms Mountfield said the incident amounted to no more than an "experiment" with a Class C drug, and observed that neither boy in yesterday's case had been in trouble at
school before. However Peter Oldham, for Birmingham City Council, said under the law there was "no requirement" for the IAP to hold just one hearing, and had it had done so the individual pupils may have felt "constrained" when giving evidence.
He said the parents had not objected to separate hearings at the time. Mr Oldham added the IAP had looked at each case on its own merits and was entitled to "exercise its own discretion", and that it was "well known" the school had a zero tolerance policy.
Given the importance of the case, Mr Justice Beatson indicated he would reserve his judgment.