“Astonishing levels of expertise in all criminal and reputational matters,” “they have the most astute and case-appropriate solicitors and partners.”
What can we offer?
Pupils or students facing disciplinary proceedings for allegations made against them of sexual assault, rape, bullying or harassment for example will benefit from specialist legal advice in what is a complex and evolving area. Whilst dealt with in the context of an educational institution’s disciplinary procedure, as opposed to the criminal arena, the impact on an individual accused of any allegations in these circumstances cannot be underestimated; the ultimate sanction often being one of expulsion. Proper legal guidance throughout the process is crucial, to navigate through the disciplinary proceedings, whilst being alive to the possibility that the complainant/s may, at any stage, report matters to the police. Our extensive experience in both disciplinary matters and criminal defence litigation allows us to ensure that the position of our client is protected in whatever arena the complaint falls to be investigated.
Whilst not all institutions allow for or permit legal representation during disciplinary hearings or meetings, advice at an early stage is crucial; both in terms of strategy and providing important support to the individual accused.
We can offer advice as to the account ultimately provided by an accused student and we are experienced in making robust representations as to the form and remit of investigative steps taken and any final disciplinary hearing by the institution. We have routinely submitted, often successfully, that existing disciplinary policies are not fit for the context of determining allegations which amount to criminal conduct and a divergence is necessary to ensure that our client’s right to natural justice and fairness is upheld.
We can arrange expert legal representation, as may be necessary and permitted, for disciplinary hearings, and prepare any evidence on which the accused may wish to rely in support of his or her case.
- Investigations by Universities and Colleges into breaches of discipline for alleged conduct which may, in reality, amount to serious criminal offences, are on the increase.
- More than 700 allegations of sexual misconduct were made to universities in the 2019 academic year, including 110 complaints of sexual assault and 80 allegations of rape, according to a report based on data from 81 responses from universities to Freedom of Information requests.
- There has been a significant and ongoing shift in attitudes. Previously, following publication of a report by the Council of Vice Chancellors and Principals in 1994, a recommendation was made that conduct which amounted to allegations of rape or sexual assault should never be investigated by Universities/Colleges. If there was a criminal investigation being undertaken by the police, then Universities/Colleges were permitted to expel a pupil in those circumstances.
- This report attracted criticism for contributing to an environment whereby those who complained of sexual abuse to their University/College felt unsupported when there was an absence of any formal complaint to the police.
- Universities/Colleges have subsequently been left in the somewhat unenviable position of, in some circumstances, conducting their own investigations into allegations of wrongdoing under their disciplinary proceedings.
- The impact of the Everyone’s Invited website established in March 2021 has brought allegations of sexual violence at schools and Universities to the fore again and led to a number of investigations at schools and Universities across the country alongwith parallel police investigations.
Client A: Accusation of rape made by a fellow student within a University College. The matter proceeded to a Disciplinary Panel hearing for determination as to whether a breach of college discipline had occurred. The allegation was withdrawn by the College, immediately prior to the disciplinary hearing commencing, following it becoming apparent that Facebook messages provided by the complainant, and relied upon as evidence of the complaint, had been edited. The information on which the discontinuance of proceedings was predicated, came to light as a direct result of extensive challenges made by us to the College in respect of disclosure and the insistence that independent disclosure Counsel be instructed. Following further representations, Client A received the entirety of his legal costs back from the College.
Client B: Accusation of rape made by a fellow student. Submissions successfully made to the institution throughout the course of the investigation, allowing our student to provide his account by way of written statement as opposed to an interview in which he would be unrepresented and allowing our student to be legally represented at the Disciplinary Panel Hearing. Evidence was gathered and prepared on behalf of our client, and extensive submissions made. The Panel found no breach of discipline.