Written by Martha Odysseos, 1st November 2023
University is for many the beginning of a whole new chapter in their lives; for some it may be the first time living away from home and for most it will represent freedom but also responsibilities that they may never have dealt with before.
It can be both exciting and daunting in equal measures. It could become all the more daunting and indeed frightening if you if you find yourself accused of something which could bring your time at university to a premature end. By way of an example there has been a marked increase in the number of complaints of sexual misconduct at university campuses up and down the country. Such allegations will often lead to a formal investigation with disciplinary proceedings likely to follow. These allegations may also involve the police at some stage as they, depending of the alleged misconduct, can amount to a criminal offence if proven.
Student Misconduct Investigations
When an allegation is reported to a university, they will tend to allocate an impartial investigator to the case. Recently, universities have started to employ a number of specialists, who can sometimes be retired police officers, to deal with these investigations. Universities are undoubtedly putting more resources into these investigations and in some regards this is good news as these types of investigations can have an extremely detrimental effect on a student’s life whether they are the person being accused or indeed the victim of such misconduct; it is, therefore, important for all that matters are robustly and properly dealt with.
A student will first be informed of any disciplinary proceedings in writing. The student will then be invited to a meeting to provide their account if they wish to do so. The student will have been advised that they are allowed to have someone present at this meeting to support them, whether this be a friend, a union member or in more serious cases, a legal representative.
Student Misconduct Panels
The university will generally use student conduct panels to determine the outcome of these investigations. The panel considers the evidence of both the complainant and the accused to decide whether or not a student has breached the university’s own internal conduct rules and whether the student should be suspended or expelled. In doing so, especially in an allegation of sexual misconduct, the panel also decides whether or not the student has committed misconduct which could in fact be a criminal offence.
Although usually proceedings which are not within the criminal courts are considered on a civil standard of proof, that is on the balance of probabilities, some institutions consider internal investigations on the criminal standard, beyond reasonable doubt. A student should be told at the start of the proceedings as to which standard of proof the allegations will be considered.
Legal representation for Student Misconduct Proceedings
It is sensible to obtain legal advice if you are subject to an internal investigation, particularly if the allegations could ultimately result in a criminal investigation too.
Students who are subject to such investigations need to be aware of the implications of the evidence they provide to student conduct panels and should treat these internal university investigations as serious matters.
Unlike in police investigations, students do not have an automatic right to legal representation in university proceedings. Whether or not you are entitled to have a legal representative advocate for you during the university proceedings is a question as to how serious the allegation is.
In AB V The University of XYZ  EWHC 206 (QB), the question as to whether AB was entitled to legal representation was asked. The court held that AB was entitled to legal representation as the allegation of sexual misconduct, in his case an allegation of rape, would have serious consequences. However, not all cases of misconduct will have the same right.
In any case even if a representative cannot advocate for you during the proceedings, you should still obtain appropriate legal advice as to what implications any disciplinary proceedings will have on you. A lawyer can advise you on how best to deal with evidence and help you decide the best tactical approach to any investigation meetings or hearings, with a view on the possible external investigations which may follow so as not to inadvertently compromise your position.
Olliers Solicitors – Specialist Student Misconduct Proceedings Lawyers
Olliers has significant experience on advising students who are under investigation by their university whether or not this investigation leads to criminal proceedings.
As we are able to advise in both the university investigation and the criminal proceedings we are able to ensure that we are aware of the evidence in both and are therefore able to advise accordingly.