A disciplinary hearing against students suspended from the University of Sussex for a campus occupation has collapsed after the panel chair was forced to resign over political bias.
Michael Davies, the university’s deputy vice-chancellor, stepped down from the panel held on 17 January after objections from the students’ legal team, which included high-profile barrister Geoffrey Robertson QC.
Mr Robertson, alongside Paul Bowen QC and two other Doughty Street barristers, raised concerns that Professor Davies could not be impartial because he had given an interview to BBC local radio in which he condemned students who had occupied university buildings.
The occupation before Christmas was part of an ongoing campaign by students against the “privatisation” of campus catering services and plans to outsource estates and facilities services.
Michael Segalov, one of the students who faces charges related to creating “a potential hazard to sustaining the university’s policies on health and safety”, said the situation was “farcical”.
“It seems nigh on impossible that Professor Davies could have acted impartially,” he said.
“Not only was he has been criticised himself as a member of the senior management team, but when I appeared on BBC Radio Sussex this morning they played me back a recording of him, in which he publicly denounced the occupation,” he added.
Mr Segalov said the “kangaroo court” proceedings should be scrapped as occupational protests were a proud part of Sussex’s history.
“Simon Fanshawe, who only recently stepped down as chair of the university council, has publicly said he was proud to be involved in occupations when he was a student at Sussex,” Mr Segalov said.
During the hearing, Mr Robertson and Mr Bowen also asked that the hearings should be held in public, as “justice must be seen to be done”.
Speaking after the hearing, Mr Robertson told a student rally that “if these students had been suspended, disciplined, or even fined, that would be a very bad precedent for universities across the country”.
“The amount that is at stake is precisely why me, and my colleagues from Doughty Street Chambers, have come down to today to the University of Sussex,” he added.
Lewis Nielsen, who also faces charges, condemned the delay to proceedings.
“Today just shows that the management at Sussex are entirely incompetent and our suspensions and the current processes are nothing more than an ideological attack on student protest,” he said.
A university spokesman said they believed Professor Davies had “agreed to step down to avoid any appearance of bias” in regards to the interview given to the BBC, but he had “acted properly and professionally throughout this process”.
In the interview, Professor Davies was “speaking on behalf of the university and setting out the university’s position in relation to the occupation in late November 2013”, it added.
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