Court refuses to reopen Oxford race case

April 30, 2004

The Court of Appeal has rejected an attempt to reopen a failed race discrimination claim against Oxford University.

Lawyers acting for former Oxford postgraduate Nadeem Ahmed said that he risked facing "significant injustice" after the emergence of what they claimed was dramatic new evidence about the conduct of the judge at his original 2002 hearing, Jonathan Playford QC.

The lawyers said in their application that the two court-appointed equality advisers - "assessors" - had separately confirmed that they had advised Judge Playford that there had been race discrimination. But Judge Playford overruled them, they said.

The application was rejected last week in the Court of Appeal by Lord Justice Waller.

He ruled on the views of Judge Playford's assessors' that the new information was "hearsay of an unreliable nature" and that, in any case, "it was the judge who was the ultimate finder of fact".

Lord Justice Waller added that Judge Playford was under no obligation to agree with his assessors.

Mr Ahmed is determined to continue the fight and intends to take his case to the House of Lords.

"I am not sure how a judge 'who was the ultimate finder of fact' could ignore the views of the assessors," he said.

Judge Playford rejected Mr Ahmed's race discrimination claim at Reading County Court in 2002, although he did establish that Mr Ahmed had been excluded from his masters course on the basis of a "flawed" Arabic language exam, which had no set pass mark and had not been second marked.

The judge also said that it was "incredible" that Mr Ahmed had failed the exam, while a white colleague who was "a complete beginner" in Arabic had passed it.

But Judge Playford ruled that Mr Ahmed's claims of racism had been mischievous and lacked evidence, and that there had been no race discrimination.

An appeal against his ruling failed in January 2003.

In a letter to the judicial office of the Court of Appeal in March, seeking permission to have the case reopened, Mr Ahmed's lawyers, Russell Jones and Walker, said: "New evidence has come to light that... relates to the role of... the judge himself."

The lawyers submitted two witness statements from Karon Monaghan, a junior counsel at the hearing, regarding an encounter with one of the assessors, and a third statement from Mr Ahmed regarding a chance encounter with the other assessor involved in the case.

The lawyers said that the statements contained evidence that the assessors had both disagreed with Judge Playford about his treatment of the case and that they thought his reasoning was wrong.

Judge Playford has pointed out that the role of his assessors was purely advisory and they had no powers to decide anything. He maintains that his reasoning and conduct have withstood attack in the Court of Appeal on two occasions.

Lord Justice Waller ruled on April 14 that the evidence was presented too late, had arisen from "casual conversation" and was unreliable.

Want to blow the whistle?

Contact Phil Baty on 020 7782 3298 or email him at phil.baty@thes.co.uk

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