The University of Warwick spent more than £43,000 on legal fees in the case of a professor it suspended after he allegedly made “ironic” comments and used negative body language towards his boss, but it refuses to disclose the full amount.
Warwick conceded in a statement that there were “lessons to be learned” from the case of English and comparative literature professor Thomas Docherty, who was suspended in January 2014 after being charged with undermining the authority of Catherine Bates, his former head of department.
As Times Higher Education revealed, the case against Professor Docherty cited three incidents, including sighing, projecting negative body language and making “ironic” comments when interviewing candidates for a job at Warwick.
He returned to work in September ahead of a university tribunal, which cleared him of all charges.
THE submitted a request under the Freedom of Information Act asking Warwick to detail the total legal costs it incurred.
Warwick replied that it “has an arrangement with its solicitors, SGH Martineau LLP, whereby it pays an annual retainer for legal services” and costs “are not paid by reference to individual matters or to time incurred in respect of specific work”. So it was “not possible to provide a figure for the actual costs payable by the university in respect of the Professor Docherty matter”.
It is understood that shortly before the tribunal was held in September, the university informed Professor Docherty that it would be represented by barristers at the hearing, prompting him to hire his own barrister and further escalating costs.
The university continued in its Freedom of Information response: “The total legal costs for counsel’s preparation and advice generally fall outside of the retainer and are identifiable. These total costs are £7,231 plus VAT [£8,677].”
Asked what the tribunal’s costs were, the university said in its response: “£28,876 plus VAT [£34,651] (comprising counsel’s costs for advising the tribunal panel and counsel’s costs for representing the university).”
The costs detailed by Warwick total £43,328, to which the undisclosed SGH Martineau costs would add an unknown amount.
In addition, Professor Docherty was said to have incurred a legal bill approaching £50,000. It is not known whether the university has agreed to pay this bill, although negotiations on this point were thought to have been held after his return to work.
What is billed as the “final joint statement” agreed by Warwick and Professor Docherty says: “The university has accepted the tribunal’s findings and acknowledges that there are lessons to be learned in terms of its processes and procedures and is taking positive action to address these. The university would, however, like to place on record its public denial of previous reports in the media that the case was related to Professor Docherty’s academic work or the important principle of academic freedom.
“For his part, Professor Docherty is very pleased with the tribunal decision and is grateful to all those who supported him throughout the proceedings, but he remains of the view that they should never have been brought.”