Our criminal defence lawyers regularly represent students and academic staff who are the subject of university misconduct proceedings, some of which can become criminal investigations.
University misconduct investigations and disciplinary proceedings can be exceptionally distressing for any student or academic staff member facing them. With sanctions for student misconduct including suspension and expulsion, students face devastating consequences disrupting academic study and student life. Negative disciplinary adjudications can damage otherwise promising employment prospects for students, particularly those looking to enter into regulated professions such as medicine or law. Professors and teachers facing misconduct allegations face the risk of unemployment and significant damage to reputation.
What is sometimes overlooked amidst the understandable panic of responding to allegations of misconduct is the risk of parallel criminal proceedings being instigated where the allegation made amounts to a criminal offence. Our expert criminal defence lawyers work closely with our education and public lawyers to ensure that all of your legal rights are properly protected.
Types of staff and student misconduct that may also amount to a criminal offence.
Most universities now have specific detailed misconduct policies dealing with how to manage allegations. Our specialist lawyers are able to advise on a range of matters including:
- Sexual harassment, assault, rape and other sexual violence
- Racist, homophobic and transphobic abuse
- Stalking and harassment including malicious communications via social media including ‘trolling’
- Possession and supply of drugs
- Common assault, ABH or other violent offences
Our lawyers regularly represent individuals who are the subject of police investigations and will manage any police involvement alongside misconduct proceedings and investigations. Through sensitive handling, we may also be able to prevent a criminal investigation from commencing.
We have experience robustly defending disputed allegations, mitigating for our clients in respect of accepted misconduct allegations and, where appropriate, challenging the lawfulness of university policies. This includes complaints to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (the OIA) and judicial review.
Our criminal defence solicitors act as a safeguard for our clients, ensuring that any unfairness within the process is highlighted to the decision makers throughout the proceedings. We work closely with our student clients (and often their parents) to consider all possible options; in some cases this may include withdrawal from and transfer to another university or institution in exceptional circumstances.
Our expert university disciplinary solicitors combine specialist Criminal, Education, and Public Law knowledge to ensure that a holistic appraisal of the misconduct investigation/proceedings is provided. It is essential that legal advice is sought early as this may determine whether the subject of an investigation is entitled to legal representation and should ensure that any unfairness in the process is minimised wherever possible.
Frequently asked questions
What can happen if I am made the subject of university disciplinary proceedings?
No university policy is the same. In fact, there are often drastically different approaches taken by each institution and even colleges within institutions. We act as a safeguard for our clients, ensuring that any unfairness inherent within the process is highlighted to the decision makers throughout the proceedings.
Many of our student clients facing misconduct allegations want answers to the key questions:
- Is my right to a fair trial being properly protected?
- What is the burden of proof?
- Will I look ‘guilty’ if I tell the university I have instructed a lawyer?
- What if there is a conflict of interest between the University and the accuser?
- Am I entitled to representation at the investigation and/or the disciplinary hearing?
- Can I challenge the process if it’s not fair?
- Will I be suspended and can I appeal a decision made to suspend me?
- Will the investigation show up on a DBS check?
- Will this impact my future career?
- How can I be protected from false allegations?
- Am I allowed to call witnesses on my behalf?
- Is my good character relevant?
These are all questions that require careful consideration and examination of the alleged misconduct as well as the relevant university policy. We work closely with our student clients (and often their parents) to consider how to prepare the case and all possible options available. In some cases, this may include withdrawal from and transfer to another university or institution or even making counter allegations if this is appropriate in the circumstances. We also advise on appropriate measures to be taken by the University/College to ensure our clients are protected on university premises during and after the investigation.
What is the process surrounding university misconduct investigations?
- An initial formal complaint is made to the university by the person who believes they have suffered from behaviour that breaches the university/college’s policy
- The complainant is given the option of making a complaint to the police if unlawful conduct is alleged
- If a police investigation commences, the university investigation will be stayed awaiting the outcome of the police investigation
- If no police investigation commences the university/college will undertake its own investigation. The student will be informed of the nature of the allegation and the investigation will be conducted by an external investigator (often an ex-police officer) or an internal member of the university
- A hearing may then take place. Legal representation may or may not be allowed at that hearing
- Once a decision is reached by the panel, there will usually be the opportunity for an appeal if the finding is against the accused
- If the outcome for the accused is successful, negotiations regarding how to integrate them back into university life may take place
- Following an appeal, if the findings against the accused are upheld, the sanction will be determined
- If the student is studying medicine, fitness to practice proceedings may commence
- University misconduct determinations/processes can be subject to an appeal to the and/or judicial review.
Can I appeal a decision made during university misconduct proceedings?
- An appeal can usually be made to a university panel or senate, but all universities differ in their processes and the remit of the appeal
- An appeal can be made to the OIA (but on relatively limited grounds) and a judicial review of the process can be made to the High Court
- All universities/colleges differ in their appeal process and time limits can be strict so timely advice is essential
Criminal Defence and Extradition
Journalists and Media Organisations
Appeals and Miscarriage of Justice
Police Station Representation and Advice
Criminal Court Representation
Road Traffic Offences
Sexual Offence Allegations
Official Secrets Act Breaches
Human Trafficking, Smuggling, and Slavery Offences
University Misconduct Complaints