Leaked report on Ulster v-c blocked

April 15, 2005

Ulster University last week won a High Court injunction to prevent Northern Ireland's main regional newspaper, The Belfast Telegraph , publishing details of a report into the conduct of its vice-chancellor.

The university's council agreed last week to delay for a further month a report on Ulster's vice-chancellor, Gerry McKenna, after a series of whistleblower complaints by university staff about management methods at the university.

But an interim version of the report, by former Parliamentary Ombudsman Sir Michael Buckley, was leaked to The Belfast Telegraph .

Acting Ulster vice-chancellor Richard Barnett this week sent a message to all staff saying that the council had not yet reached a decision "on the matter relating to the vice-chancellor" and was likely to meet within a month to consider the issue further.

He warned that there had been a serious breach of confidentiality over the Buckley report, adding that he was launching an internal inquiry by the university's auditors.

Bernard Brady, counsel for the university, argued that Professor McKenna remained a university employee and said that to publish the report would touch on his employment relationship.

Gerry Simpson, QC, challenging on behalf of The Belfast Telegraph , said that to grant the order would be a breach of the media's right to freedom of expression under the European Convention on Human Rights.

Mr Justice Higgins ruled that since the document was a confidential report, which had been circulated to a limited number of university officials only, restrictions were necessary.

He said: "This is a draft report that contains allegations and preliminary findings. It is an ongoing process. In a democratic society, there is a requirement for due process.

Mr Justice Higgins added: "The process here is incomplete and could not be considered as due. The consequences of disclosure when due process is not yet complete would be particularly grave."

The university said that the purpose of the Buckley report was "to consider, assess and report, through preliminary investigation, whether a prima facie case arises out of concerns and complaints regarding the conduct or capability of the vice-chancellor in maintaining and promoting the efficiency and good order of the university".

Professor McKenna has been on paid sabbatical leave since late December. He had previously been on sick leave.

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