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“No case to answer”: Student cleared after rape allegation

Louise O’Driscoll and Richard Etherington successfully defended a third-year student facing an allegation of sexual misconduct.

Last year our client was arrested by the police after he attended a house party hosted by the Complainant. She alleged that during the party he forced his way into her room and had sex with her without her consent. Our client denied the offence in the interview and was released on bail. After a lengthy investigation, during which he was suspended from university, the police dropped the case due to lack of evidence.

In spite of this, his university convened a formal misconduct hearing. Louise O’Driscoll immediately set about preparing a detailed statement refuting the allegation. Ben Shellard, a paralegal, obtained a statement from our client’s friend who claimed to have seen the pair in bed together and witnessed nothing untoward.

Hostile panel met with robust defence

Richard Etherington represented the student at the misconduct hearing. Evidence was heard from both sides and Richard robustly defended our client who faced difficult, and at times, hostile questions from the panel.

After lengthy deliberations, the chairperson delivered the judgment of the panel; that there was no case to answer and that misconduct was not proven. The student was immediately invited to return to the University to conclude his studies.

Richard Etherington said, “In criminal proceedings and investigations the Crown Prosecution Service and Police must prove allegations to the standard of ‘beyond all reasonable doubt’. This high burden means that Magistrates or a Jury will only convict a Defendant if they are sure of a Defendant’s guilt. University investigations work to the lesser civil standard of ‘the balance of probabilities’. This means that if a university finds that an incident is more likely than not to have occurred; the accused will face sanctions. The gulf between the criminal and civil burdens means that students who are acquitted of, or not charged with, criminal offences are often investigated by their university afterwards.

I was delighted for our client. I find it very rewarding to assist university students facing these allegations when the outcome can have such a huge impact on their futures. These cases are often high stakes as, particularly in the case of sexual misconduct, expulsion from the university is a real possibility.”

Appointing a lawyer early is key

Louise O’Driscoll added, “Despite what a university may tell a student, they are eligible in certain circumstances to have a lawyer assist them during the investigation and proceedings following recent case law in AB v The University of XYZ (Rev 1) [2020] EWHC 2978 (QB). Although we can accept instructions at any stage of the case, in our experience we find that the earlier we become instructed, the more influence we can have over the process; including making representations regarding preliminary and precautionary measures.”

Above and beyond

In feedback after the acquittal, our client’s mother wrote, “As a family we want to say a huge thanks to the team, everyone has worked so hard over the last couple of weeks, it’s been pressured and intense and we nailed it. The written statement was amazing, very on point and crucial to the hearing, a masterpiece. I know it went through a number of hands, drafted re-drafted and executed to precision. We really appreciate everyone’s input, Louise you were incredible can’t thank you enough, Ben huge thanks for all your hard work, Richard again over and above and you bagged it on the day.

Each university has different powers and procedures however the sanctions available to a disciplinary committee or proctor typically include removing a student from the course, excluding them from certain parts of campus or, fines. It is vitally important that any student facing an investigation by their institution seeks advice from a Solicitor as soon as possible.

If you need advice or representation in a university misconduct case, contact us and ask for Richard Etherington or Louise O’Driscoll.

Read about our other recent successes here.

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