Facing disciplinary proceedings at a university for any matter is a daunting and stressful experience. However, where a complaint has been made that includes allegations of a criminal nature, clients often have additional concerns about whether their case will go beyond their university’s own investigation and result in criminal proceedings. Our Criminal law team is experienced in representing clients before university disciplinary bodies and in criminal investigations, and we answer some frequently asked questions below.
What will happen when a complaint is made?
Different universities have their own policies and procedures for investigating misconduct. Initially, the complainant is usually asked if they wish to proceed through the university discipline route, or report the matter to the police. If a police report is made, the university investigation is usually stayed so that it does not contaminate the police investigation in any way. The accused student may face suspension from the university whilst awaiting for the police matter to be resolved.
If a student does not wish to report the matter to the police at that stage, once a complaint has been made an investigator appointed by the university will usually meet with the complainant and take a statement. The investigator will then take statements from any witnesses identified, and then take a statement from the accused and any witnesses they suggest could assist. Some universities will then arrange for a hearing where the accused, complainant and witnesses may be asked to attend a panel to provide evidence in person. In other cases, the panel might only consider written statements and not require anyone to attend to give live evidence.
In some cases legal representation at the investigation stage is permitted, in others it may only be allowed at the panel stage once a special request is made, and in some, legal representation may not be permitted at any stage.
It is very important to seek advice prior to providing any evidence to the school or university, as not only could the outcome of the investigation affect an individual’s future at university, it may also be disclosed to the police should the person who made the allegation, or the university, make a police complaint.
Will the university report my case to the police?
Universities have their own safeguarding policies which they will need to consider before deciding whether to make a police complaint. The person who made the allegation can also report to the police at any time. A person who is the subject of a complaint will therefore need advice on whether any steps can be taken to help minimise the risk of either the university or individual making a police complaint.
I have been invited to a hearing, will I be allowed legal representation?
Most universities do not routinely allow legal representation at disciplinary hearings and so the legal representative may have to make an application to the disciplinary panel be allowed to attend and represent the accused. Every university and different colleges within universities have their own policies on legal representation. There is no universal policy. It is important to note that if legal representation is not allowed, this does not mean an individual cannot seek legal advice.
Will I be allowed to stay at my school or university?
Different universities have different sanctions they can apply for different offences, however all will reserve the right to suspend students during an investigation, and expel students following the outcome of an investigation into a complaint. Whether an individual is suspended or can remain at their institution will depend on the allegation and the outcome of the investigation. Early legal advice is essential.
Alternatively, if the university decides that you can remain at the institution, negotiations may be required regarding how best to reintegrate an accused into the university. We regularly advise on ground rules for all students to agree to in matters like this.
Can I appeal against the decision of my university?
Universities will usually have their own appeal procedures. In some circumstances it may also be possible to appeal to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) which is an independent body set up to review complaints, or it may be possible to review the university’s decision in the courts.
If you have been notified that an allegation has been made against you at your university, please contact Kate Goold in our Criminal law team by completing our enquiry form, or calling us on +44 (0) 20 7014 2020. Further information is available about issues that may arise and how we handle university misconduct complaints here.