Successful Appeal Against Allegations of Academic Misconduct
We were instructed by a Master’s student at a prestigious London University accused of academic misconduct – namely, collusion – during an online exam in May 2022. A preliminary finding against her had been made with a proposed sanction of 0% for the whole component. She asked us to advise her on the merits of appeal.
Louise O’Driscoll spoke with her and reassured her that we would support her through the process. Within the day, the case papers were sent through, and a conference was arranged. Louise followed this up with written advice in support of an appeal ahead of the short deadline.
Louise prepared written submissions which went before the Appeal Panel, challenging the evidential basis of the original decision which resulted in the misconduct investigation being dropped against the client there and then.
Louise’s client had an exemplary student record. She was daunted about challenging the University and so wanted the support of a solicitor to navigate the process with her and identify and articulate the evidential difficulties on her behalf. The client knew that she didn’t collude but was unable to draw out the evidence to demonstrate the weakness in the case against her. The client struggles with several special educational needs which meant that she didn’t feel able to take on the challenge alone.
The evidence against the students was based on their exam scripts alone. Whilst there were similarities between the scripts, it was right to point out that the University should have proceeded with more caution and considered the fact that these students had revised together on a limited pool of resources and there was no compelling evidence to suggest the scripts were anything more than a reflection of this. Several well-argued points were put together which resulted in a very compelling appeal.
It was important to understand firstly the rationale of the University in reaching its decision to conclude that there had been collusion during the exam. It was necessary to break down the paper into answers one by one and appreciate how the similarities were arrived at.
Louise O’Driscoll prepared the written challenge to the University’s decision to find academic misconduct. This was submitted by the student directly and the appeal was heard the following day. The representations identified several considerations that the University had not taken account of when reaching its initial finding. Upon consideration, the University accepted that the legal test had not been met and dropped the case.
Immediately following the meeting the student was advised that the appeal had been upheld and the finding of misconduct withdrawn. The student was given her exam mark meaning the component had been successfully passed. She was put back into the position as though the allegation had never been made which was a huge relief to her and her family.
Reflecting on the case, associate solicitor Louise said, “In University proceedings it is important to remember that those making decisions are not legally trained and may take things or events at face value. As a solicitor with a background in criminal defence work, I am passionate about getting to the heart of a case and exploring whether there is an alternative explanation. I can support students to make sure their voice is heard and achieve more equality in the proceedings which to many are overwhelming given the complexity and formality and the consequences should they fail.”
If you are a student facing allegations of university misconduct, we recommend seeking legal guidance at the earliest possible opportunity. Get in touch with our education solicitors to discuss how we can help.