Skip to main contentCambridge University Reporter

No 6554

Wednesday 3 July 2019

Vol cxlix No 36

pp. 759–794

Fly-sheets reprinted

Fly-sheets relating to the ballots on Graces 1 and 2 of 30 May 2019 (New student disciplinary framework / adoption of the civil standard of proof)

In accordance with the Council's Notice on Discussions and Fly-sheets (Statutes and Ordinances, p. 110), the fly-sheets from the ballots on Graces 1 and 2 of 30 May 2019 (New student disciplinary framework / adoption of the civil standard of proof) are reprinted below. Fly‑sheets are reprinted in the order in which they appeared in the ballot booklet, which was random. For the result of the ballot, see p. 769.

Ballots on Graces 1 and 2 of 30 May 2019

Placet fly-sheet

We urge the members of the Regent House to vote placet to all three recommendations. This will amend the Statutes and Ordinances of the University to adopt the revised Student Disciplinary Framework, effective from 1 October 2019, and change the standard of proof from beyond reasonable doubt to the balance of probabilities.

These recommendations are the result of a five-year-long process of extensive consultation and consideration with a range of stakeholders. Since 2014, the University has seen an improvement in its reporting procedures for harassment and misconduct. The most notable moment has been the University-wide pledge of zero tolerance to harassment or misconduct of any form as part of the 2017 Breaking the Silence initiative. Members of Regent House now have the opportunity to improve the disciplinary procedure for those who have been empowered to report instances of harassment and misconduct. The need for these reforms reflects the changing landscape of the sector, culminating in the recent publication of the Office of the Independent Adjudicator’s Good Practice Guidelines. To be compliant with these Guidelines, the Review Committee on Student Discipline has produced a procedure that is as transparent as possible and fair to all parties.

These revisions clarify that a University disciplinary procedure is an internal process and not an extension of a criminal court of law. It therefore follows that the current standard of proof (beyond reasonable doubt) needs to be replaced with the civil standard of proof (on the balance of probabilities). Adopting the civil standard of proof enables the University to manage the expectations of those involved in cases of student discipline by clearly signalling the difference between civil disciplinary proceedings and a criminal case. Staff members, representatives from both Students’ Unions and UCU, and students themselves spoke in favour of adopting the balance of probabilities at the Discussion on 21 May 2019. The Office of Student Conduct, Complaints and Appeals (OSCCA) found that 88% of those who responded to the February 2019 consultation were also in favour of changing the standard of proof, alongside other significant improvements to the procedure, such as the introduction of a full-time Investigator role, the communication of clear timescales, and an accessible right of appeal for all parties.

We commend this Report to the Regent House as an opportunity to uphold the principles of recent reforms and continue to work with students to enact lasting cultural change. We therefore urge the Regent House to vote placet to Recommendations I, II and III [Graces 1 and 2 of 30 May 2019].

Signed by the following members of the Regent House:

R. A. Alexander

N. S. M. Guyatt

C. G. A. Mouhot

J. H. Arnold

R. J. Holton

L. Mukhida

T. T. Blaxter

S. C. James

Alice M. Reid

H. A. Chalmers

R. H. Langton

A. Sanchez

S. M. E. Cortijo

M. R. Laven

J. C. Sanders

G. M. Cronin

M. V. Lucas-Smith

J. E. Scott-Warren

L. M. Delap

L. C. McMahon

R. A. Sugden

T. J. Denmead

I. M. McNeill

N. Tanna

M. Donaldson

S. Martin

G. J. Virgo

G. L. Evans

T. J. Miley

C. E. Wills

P. Gopal

M. G. Moreno Figueroa

M. R. Wormald

J. A. Guarneri

R. Morieux

W. Yaqoob

Signed by the following registered students and sabbatical officers of Cambridge University Students’ Union and the Graduate Union:

S. A. Ahmed

J. P. Jia

S. Swain

A. M. Y. Ajioka

R. Jordana

S. Thata

E. B. Aspinall

E. Kidner

M. H. Thijssen

O. Banks

M. D. Kite

J. M. Townson

C. Bateman

K. Litman

E. Travis

B. B. Bhargava

M. Llavero Pasquina

S. B. Trigg

M. J. Blok

C. D. McFarlane

H. van Soest

Stephen Carter

T. Mayer

H. A. Walker

J. Ferrer Orri

E. W. Parker Humphreys

S. J. Warren-Miell

K. R. Gaunt

C. Pungong

N. H. Wise

A. S. Grieve

S. A. Ropek-Hewson

W. A. Wood

L. S. J. Hondebrink

T. Sell

D. Wright

S. D. Infante

C. M. Sosienski-Smith

T. Zago

On a Revised Student Disciplinary Framework

In its February 2019 Consultation on the Framework1, the University defines:

“the purpose of the University’s disciplinary process is to enable the University to consider proportionately the behaviour and risk that students and former students pose, both to the University and to members of the Collegiate University community.”

The proposed procedure, consisting of rules and a mechanism for identifying breaches of those rules, seems to have three legitimate aims, namely to

  i.enable the University to deliver its academic program;

 ii.maintain the integrity of the qualifications the University awards and the academic standards that it espouses; and

iii.provide students with a safe environment in which to pursue their studies.

We are concerned that the Framework falls short in cases which have prompted some of the loudest calls for revised procedures, namely when sexual misconduct is alleged, and criminal proceedings may be ongoing. Specifically, the procedure states

“The University will not normally investigate a matter where criminal proceedings are ongoing (including criminal investigations and appeal processes), pausing any action under this procedure until criminal proceedings are complete.”

Such an approach is supported by Counsel’s opinion which warns

“common law fairness requires the University to be alert to the possible consequences of undertaking disciplinary investigations which may affect current or future criminal investigations.”

Given that the average length of a rape investigation may be two years (and that up to 18 months may be added if smartphone data is requested), in such cases the revised procedure does not itself provide students with a safe environment without recourse to the already extant Special Ordinance D (v), which enables precautionary measures to be put in place “if the Academic Secretary considers that any such measures are necessary … b) to protect any person while any matter is being dealt with under a procedure in the University or as part of a criminal process”. In such a case the precautionary measures (the imposition of which are not governed by a procedure as thorough as that outlined in the Framework and are designed to be imposed before any finding is made) may be in place for the majority of a respondent’s period of study.

A better solution than that in the Framework would be to de-couple from the disciplinary process, the measures that may be imposed to enable the University to provide a safe environment in which to pursue studies. This would have the advantage that such safeguarding measures could be imposed if the complainant did not wish to make a criminal complaint or a complaint under the disciplinary procedure. The standard of proof for imposing such measures that safeguard individuals should be the wholly appropriate “balance of probabilities”.

By de-coupling the requirement for providing a safe environment from that of discipline, we would then argue that the standard of proof for disciplinary cases (which can have life changing consequences) should remain the historical tried and tested “beyond reasonable doubt”. As the Faculty Board of Law noted in submission on the second consultation (our emphasis):

As the Board understands it, this standard [i.e. balance of probabilities] is only and specifically applied in relation to ‘fitness to practice’ adjudications, where manifest safeguarding issues arise that are not relevant in the University context. The Board does not subscribe to the logic that the adoption of a single standard oriented around the balance of probabilities is ‘transparent, consistent and easily understood’. Instances of a safeguarding-related adjudication justifying a lower standard, given particular concerns about future protection of vulnerable persons, are easily distinguishable from other cases adopting a higher standard.

We have written this fly-sheet to highlight one of the significant drawbacks and inadequacies we perceive in the proposed Framework. We considered running Amendments; however, these would by necessity be extensive, difficult to articulate in detail in a fly-sheet, and there was little time for them to be drafted. The Regent House is left in a quandary. A revised Student Disciplinary Procedure is required for the University to fulfil its moral and legal duty under the Equality Act (2010), and to satisfy the requirements of the Office of the Independent Adjudicator, but we believe that the proposed Framework has serious shortcomings. We urge the University to think again, rapidly.

Signed by the following members of the Regent House:

N. Berloff

N. Dorey

Stuart Martin

C.-C. P. Caulfield

M. J. Gross

O. Rath-Spivack

S. J. Cowley

N. J. Holmes

D. B. Skinner

S. B. Dalziel

J. R. Lister

J. Wolf