Pianist who fondled teen girl while simultaneously French-kissing her mother has teaching ban lifted
A renowned concert pianist has won a High Court challenge against the Education Secretary's decision to ban him from teaching indefinitely after sexually assaulting a girl of 15 while simultaneously French-kissing her mother.
Robin Zebaida, 51, was convicted in November 2013 of groping the girl at his flat in St John's Wood, north-west London.
But a judge has ruled that, as Zebaida was not employed as a teacher either at the time of the conduct or at the time his case was referred to the secretary of state, there was no jurisdiction to impose the ban.
The Oxford-educated classical pianist was sentenced in a criminal trial to a two-year conditional discharge order, issued with a sex offenders' notice for two years and ordered to pay a victim surcharge.
The trial judge considered the offence to be "a grave misjudgment on the spur of the moment" which was entirely out of character but which took advantage of the vulnerability of a child.
The National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL) also investigated the matter and Zebaida appeared before a teachers' professional conduct panel in April 2015 to face a charge of "bringing the profession into disrepute".
Zebaida's representative argued the NCTL had no jurisdiction to hear his case as his total sum of teaching was for one term, 15 years ago, and the panel had no authority "to hear allegations about a teacher not currently teaching".
In 2000, he worked as a part-time music teacher at the Oratory school in London for one term.
Between 1998 and 2013 he worked as a freelance music examiner for the Associated Board of the Royal Schools.
Zebaida is a Royal College of Music postgraduate whose online profile described him as having a "wide-ranging and extensive repertoire from Bach to Gershwin". He has played in more than 100 countries, including performances at major London venues.
He has said his conviction for sexual assault, committed while sandwiched between the girl and her mother on his two-seat sofa in November 2012, has destroyed him emotionally and financially.
The court was told he does not intend ever to work as a teacher again.
The NCTL considered it had jurisdiction to consider his case under the provisions of the Education Act 2002 and Regulation 2 of the Teachers Disciplinary (England) Regulations 2012.
The NCTL conduct panel found Zebaida guilty of "unacceptable professional conduct" which might bring the profession into disrepute and recommended to Education Secretary Nicky Morgan that he be banned from teaching, the order to be reviewable after two years.
The Education Secretary agreed to the ban last January, but concluded a review period would be "inappropriate" in view of Zebaida's serious conviction for a sexual assault on a 15-year-old.
She stated: "I believe that the panel has not taken sufficient account of the public concern that would arise were he to be able to seek to apply for a review period."
Zebaida appealed to the High Court in London against the secretary of state's decision and, on Thursday, won a ruling from Judge Anne Molyneux that the Education Secretary did not have jurisdiction to make the prohibition order.
Judge Molyneux said the relevant legislation "does not allow for the referral of a person who is not employed as a teacher either at the time of the conduct or at the time of the referral". It did not cover a person who "has been" employed.
The judge said: "If Parliament has intended section 141 A (of the Education Act) to apply to a person who 'is or has been employed' then it could easily have drafted the section to say so."
The judge disagreed with the conduct panel's conclusion that, if it did not have jurisdiction over the Zebaida case, it would "allow those with serious allegations against them to seek to escape the potential consequences of their actions, by resigning or by drifting in and out of the profession".
The judge said: "That is not so. A common sense and plain reading of the legislation allows for referral to the secretary of state of a person who is employed or engaged in teaching - whenever the conduct giving rise to concern takes place - or who was so employed or engaged at the time the conduct complained of takes place or comes to light."