Reporting back

May 19, 2016

I feel qualified to comment on Matthew Wyard’s opinion article “A matter of consent: sexual assaults on campus” (12 May) and the current controversy about the Zellick Report on universities’ handling of sexual assault allegations, both as a member of the group that produced the report and as a frequent commentator on legal issues in higher education.

In 1994, we were right to clarify both the responsibilities of universities and the rights of individual students accused of serious misconduct that could also constitute a criminal offence. We should remember that the need for guidance arose from a case at King’s College London that attracted considerable criticism, not least from the National Union of Students and the media.

Our group dealt only with questions of student discipline. We were not charged with examining ways in which support could be given to alleged victims; neither the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals (forerunner of Universities UK) nor the NUS asked us to do so. As Graham Zellick has commented in the past, there is no need to rewrite or update the guidance because the legal basis for its recommendations remains in essence unchanged. Here Wyard is wrong.

However, he and others are right to say that universities must ensure that their policies and practices deal effectively with the issues giving rise to disciplinary or criminal proceedings, and this requires an effective reporting system.

Dennis Farrington
OxCHEPS Higher and Further Education Law Network

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