Public interest cases

Cases involving possible criminal proceedings - February 2017

Cardiff University

A student at Cardiff University complained to the OIA about the University’s decision to dismiss his appeal against his expulsion on disciplinary grounds.

The University temporarily suspended the student under its disciplinary procedures after he was arrested by the police for various offences against other students. The student appealed against the suspension and the University agreed to vary its terms so that he could sit his end of year assessments. The student was later convicted of five counts of sexual assault and securing unauthorised access to computer material. He was sentenced to a Community Order and required to sign the Sex Offender’s register. The University subsequently pursued a disciplinary case against the student and decided that he should be expelled as his behaviour had breached the University’s disciplinary procedures. The University dismissed the student’s appeal against that decision.

The OIA criticised the University for some elements of its handling of the case, in particular its failure to properly explain aspects of its decision-making relating to whether the student had demonstrated insight into his actions. However, with the exception of this point, the OIA considered that the remainder of the University’s decision letter contained clear reasoning, supported by evidence in relation to its decision and was satisfied that the decision to expel the student was reasonable and proportionate. The convictions were serious and directly impacted on the University community, the student’s Probation Officer had indicated that the risk of him causing serious harm to others would likely be assessed as high if he returned to the University, there was an identified risk to adult females around the student’s age and the University could not ensure compliance with the Probation Officer’s recommendation that he should reside in single-sex accommodation.

The OIA therefore concluded that the complaint was Not Justified, but made some suggestions to the University in terms of explaining the reasons for its decisions and introducing a ground for appeal to allow a student to challenge the penalty imposed under its disciplinary procedures.

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University of Surrey

A student at the University of Surrey complained to the OIA following her appeal against the process and outcome of disciplinary proceedings.

The student was one of two female students who were disciplined by the University following an altercation between them. The student who complained to the OIA was found guilty by the University of the use of offensive language prior to the altercation. She was injured in the incident and the police were called and carried out an investigation.

We decided that one aspect of the complaint was Justified. The student had requested information about the outcome of disciplinary proceedings against the other student and in particular to be told if the other student had been expelled from the campus. The University declined to provide this information, citing data protection law. However, it could not demonstrate that it considered departing from its usual practice of keeping such information confidential, whether medical evidence about the impact on the first student’s mental health indicated that some disclosure would be appropriate, or whether it should ask the other student’s permission to disclose the information. Nor did the University explain to the first student why it had decided not to disclose the information to her, other than citing data protection.

The OIA concluded that this was not reasonable in the circumstances of the case. We recommended that the University apologise and pay compensation for distress and inconvenience. We also recommended that the University reviews its disciplinary regulations and guidance available to students to ensure that it clearly sets out what information a third party involved in a disciplinary matter might expect to receive during and after any investigation is complete.

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Birmingham City University

A student at Birmingham City University complained to the OIA after the University rejected an appeal against its decision to exclude him.

The University started disciplinary proceedings when it came to light that the student had not disclosed details of an unspent criminal conviction in his application. Following an investigation of the facts the case was referred to a Student Disciplinary Panel. This concluded that the student had breached the University’s disciplinary procedure and decided to exclude him. The University made adjustments to the way it ran the panel to enable the student to comment on the information in his absence due to imprisonment for a further criminal offence.

The OIA was satisfied that the University followed a fair process and that the penalty was proportionate to the facts of the case and within the range of penalties available. The evidence available to the University demonstrated that the student knew his conviction was unspent at the time of the application, had sought advice as to the status of his conviction and its relevance to the application and decided not to disclose it.

The OIA decided the complaint was Not Justified