The Queen has ordered an investigation into allegations that Salford University's disciplinary procedures are in breach of natural justice. The dispute could become a test case for the human rights legislation introduced into Britain last month.
In her role as visitor, the Queen has called on the Lord Chancellor's Department to examine allegations by former mature student Desmond Penrose. Mr Penrose, a prominent anti-racism campaigner, was suspended by the university in April last year. He claims he was denied natural justice during a formal appeal against the university's decision.
He walked out of the hearing after the university refused his lawyer's request for an adjournment because the university had brought forward new witnesses at the last minute.
Salford, in accordance with its own procedures, continued to hear the case in the absence of Mr Penrose and his representative.
The case now rests on whether the university's procedures are in breach of natural justice.
Mr Penrose's lawyer, Chris Bishop, of Slater Heelis Collier Littler, said:
"In many ways the university has a laudable system similar to the adversarial system operating in our civil and criminal courts. But there is no way the courts would allow new evidence to be introduced at such a late stage and refuse an adjournment."
Mr Penrose's problems with Salford began last year, shortly after he became a high-profile victim of police injustice, which he believes was racially motivated. In November 1998, Mr Penrose was convicted of using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour against the police. This conviction was quashed when video evidence was produced.
Mr Penrose has since been involved in other confrontations with police.
He claims his difficulties with the police led to problems with his studies, and he made a number of complaints to various university figures about what he thought was a lack of support from the university. A series of incidents were considered by the university to constitute "abusive and threatening behaviour".
Paula Betteride, director of external relations at Salford, said the university stood by its decision to suspend Mr Penrose. "We are entirely satisfied that Mr Penrose was treated in accordance with the university's code of discipline," she said. "At the appeals committee, comprising a group of senior university representatives, Mr Penrose and his lawyer walked out after the university brought forward additional witnesses in further corroboration of its existing evidence. The hearing continued, and it was concluded that Mr Penrose's behaviour was so serious that exclusion was the appropriate measure — a decision that will be defended with vigour."