New Sussex hearings for protest students branded 'unlawful'

The University of Sussex has held further disciplinary hearings in the case of students who took part in protests on campus in 2013.

March 10, 2014

Times Higher Education understands the meetings took place at the university last week, although Sussex has declined to comment on the details.

However, lawyers representing three of the students involved claim in a letter to the university dated 28 February that the hearings are “unlawful”.

A group of students occupied Sussex’s Bramber House conference centre for seven nights in November and December last year to protest against alleged “privatisation” of campus services. Some of the group were also involved in an alleged blockade of campus traffic on 3 December.

Initially the university proposed disciplinary proceedings against four of the students through the Student Disciplinary Panel, which has the power to suspend or exclude them. But these proceedings collapsed in January after the panel’s chair, Michael Davies, recused himself from the hearings in response to a legal challenge that accused him of bias.

The university’s Student Disciplinary Committee then reassessed the cases and called them to be heard under Schedule A of the institution’s disciplinary regulations. In these proceedings students face a maximum penalty of £250 and are not entitled to legal representation.

But the letter to the university from solicitors Irvine Thanvi Natas says that attempts by the university to deny the students legal representation were “unacceptable, unlawful and would amount to an abuse of process”.

A statement from Sussex said: “It is an established part of the discipline regulations agreed by our Senate that the presence of lawyers for this level of disciplinary case is not allowed.”

It added: “The university does not comment on the detail of disciplinary cases.”

Further allegations in the solicitor’s letter suggest that the university “has clearly failed to act accordance with its own regulations” and that the latest disciplinary meetings “have therefore not been lawfully constituted”.

The letter adds that the students would be under no obligation to pay any fine imposed on them as a result of the hearing.

It is understood some hearings took place on 4 and 6 March and under the instruction of his lawyers, one of the students involved, Michael Segalov, said that he submitted a statement to his hearing without speaking and left.

Since then he said he has heard nothing from the university.

The university statement added: “Several students continue to be subject to a disciplinary process, since they are alleged to have breached student regulations.

“These regulations, which students are required to sign up to when registering at the university, include an important expectation that students shall ‘maintain a standard of conduct which is not harmful to the work, good order or good name of the university’.”

holly.else@tsleducation.com

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