University Student Avoids Exclusion for Alleged Sexual Misconduct
We were instructed by an undergraduate student at university who faced 4 separate allegations of sexual misconduct contrary to the University’s code of conduct policy. The allegations amounted to 3 occasions when he was said to have had nonconsensual penetrative sex with a female and an incident of sexual assault. Two reporting parties had brought his conduct to the attention of the University. Our client was immediately suspended pending investigation and had precautionary measures imposed preventing him from engaging in any sporting and Student Union activities and excluding him from attending campus for any purpose other than formal teaching sessions. He asked Richard Nelson LLP to advise him on appealing against the precautionary measures and represent him during the misconduct proceedings.
Louise scheduled a meeting with the student and assisted him with the preparation of a written response to the university regarding the reported alleged behaviour. The student used this response as an aid during his investigation interview. Shannon attended the interview with the student, acting in a supportive role and ensuring that the university followed its policy and procedure whilst the student was being questioned. During the investigation, the team worked closely with the student to collect evidence including text messages, photos and witness statements that could be used to support his version of events and discredit the reporting parties’ versions. A comprehensive bundle was later submitted to the university investigator to consider during their decision-making.
The matter went before the University Misconduct Panel. Ms Wendy Hewitt of Counsel was instructed by Richard Nelson LLP. Ms Hewitt challenged the evidential basis of the reported behaviour aided by the evidence and statements gathered by Miss O’Driscoll and Miss Keenan.
3 out of 4 counts were dropped. The student was sanctioned for 1 count of having non-consensual sex contrary to the University’s policy. Mitigation was advanced with reference to the student having been proactive in engaging with remedial action. Such was the persuasive nature of the mitigation, the university felt justified in allowing him to complete his course. A package of requirements was set out by the university to be completed during the Summer.
Louise’s client was an undergraduate student who was in his first year of study. He was nervous about challenging the University, particularly due to the sensitive nature of the allegations and so wanted the support of a legal team to navigate the process with him and identify and articulate the evidential issues on his behalf. The client has educational needs and felt unable to draw out the evidence to demonstrate the weakness in the case against him without support.
The evidence against the student was based on the reporting parties’ disclosures and text messages. Whilst there were messages that painted a dim view of the student, it was right to point out the context behind them and that the reporting parties had been selective in their submissions which produced a biased view of the conversations that had been held. With Miss Keenan’s guidance, the student was able to explain to the university during his investigation meeting, that he had been blocked on all social media by the reporting parties and was unable to retrieve the full set of messages. It was requested that the University proceed with caution and considered this during their deliberations.
The student was invited to an investigation meeting where he was asked to respond to the allegations made against him. The purpose of the interview was to allow the investigator to determine whether to take the matter to a University Misconduct Panel. The student was asked to submit any supporting evidence ahead of the Panel meeting.
Louise and Shannon went through each element of the allegations with the student, taking careful instructions to fully appreciate the nature of the student’s relationships and why the allegations may have been made. Sexual allegations such as this, which arise predominantly through casual sexual relationships, as opposed to long-term relationships, are often more likely to occur due to miscommunication between the parties and emotional attachments that are created. The student however was able to provide a timeline of events between him and the reporting parties, including how a causal relationship with one of the reporting parties had played a part in the issues. The context demonstrated potential reasons as to why the reporting parties were dissatisfied with his behaviour which led to the allegations being made against him.
In preparation for the Misconduct Panel, the team collected witness statements from friends and other students who were able to comment on his character and behaviour, highlighting his respectful manner around women and the development of his relationship with the reporting parties.
It was important to understand first the rationale of the University in deciding to investigate the allegations made against the student. It was necessary to break down the University’s Student Conduct and Behaviour policy and understand how the student’s actions may have breached the university’s contractual expectations of him.
The team advised the student on the types of remedial actions available to him and which ones would be of benefit to show the Panel his insight into his behaviour. Counsel identified several persuasive arguments that were put before the panel members and upon consideration, the University accepted that the legal test had not been met for 2 counts of rape and 1 count of sexual assault. The mitigation carried out by the student demonstrated his reflections on the issues at hand, showing the panel that there was no merit in permanently excluding him.
Immediately following the University Misconduct Panel, the student was advised of the outcome that 3 out of 4 counts were dismissed. He was sanctioned for the remaining count of rape. He was informed that his student finance would be deferred to the following year, so he would not be financially disadvantaged as a result of the process, which was a huge relief to him and his family.
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.