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Disciplinary issues (non-academic): Case involving criminal proceedings - PI051504

University of Sheffield

Student A complained to us about the University of Sheffield’s handling of an incident involving himself and another student, student B. The incident took place on University premises, and student A suffered a significant injury. Student B was subjected to criminal proceedings but was discharged by the court. The University did not suspend him, or instigate disciplinary proceedings against him. Student A subsequently withdrew from the University. He complained that no action had been taken against student B and that the University had failed to communicate with him.

We found the case Partly Justified on a number of grounds, including that the University did not keep adequate records of its decision not to suspend student B, or consider whether in the circumstances it should inform student A of its decision. We concluded that it was reasonable for the University to await the outcome of criminal proceedings before pursuing disciplinary action against student B.

The University’s disciplinary regulations precluded it from taking any disciplinary action against a student where criminal proceedings against that student had resulted in an acquittal. We concluded that it was not reasonable for the University to maintain such a blanket ban. The disciplinary procedures applied a lower standard of proof than criminal proceedings, and a student might be found guilty of a breach of the University’s code of conduct even though he had not been found guilty of a criminal offence. It was not therefore reasonable to dismiss student A’s complaint against the decision not to take disciplinary action. We note that the University has now changed its policy in this respect.

We recommended that the University pay compensation to student A. We also recommended that the University review and develop its guidance on the procedures relating to the discipline of students to include details on what actions it takes in deciding whether to suspend a student.