UCU presses to regain costs incurred in legal defence

Union seeks court clearance to bill lecturer in failed anti‑Semitism claim

May 8, 2014

Source: Alamy

Hard knocks: the UCU spent £580,000 on the case and must also trim its budget

The University and College Union has stepped up its efforts to recoup the £580,000 it spent defending itself against allegations that it harassed a Jewish academic.

In the latest twist in the case of Ronnie Fraser, who took the UCU to an employment tribunal claiming that its policy on Palestine constituted religious harassment, lawyers for the union have argued that he should pay its legal costs.

It follows the tribunal’s complete rejection of Mr Fraser’s legal action, which claimed that the UCU was institutionally anti-Semitic owing to motions passed in favour of boycotting Israel.

Dismissing all 10 of the further education lecturer’s claims last May, the tribunal said that it viewed “almost the entire case as manifestly unmeritorious”, with various points rejected as “palpably groundless”, “obviously hopeless” and “devoid of any merit”.

The tribunal, led by employment judge Anthony Snelson, observed that the “sorry saga” had acquired a “gargantuan scale” – it required a 20-day hearing and 23 volumes of evidence – that was “manifestly excessive and disproportionate”.

With the tribunal adding that the UCU should not have been put to the “trouble and expense of defending” the case, the union is now suing Mr Fraser for costs – a seldom-used tactic for defendants in employment tribunals.

Last month, a new tribunal judge, Joanna Wade, was asked to consider whether the case was “misconceived or otherwise unreasonable”. A favourable decision would allow the UCU to be repaid its legal costs. That would also require the costs hearing to be heard promptly and on the basis of the original judgment.

But lawyers for Mr Fraser have claimed that Judge Snelson over-reached himself in his findings and that a lengthy re-examination of the evidence was now required.

Judge Wade will decide whether a fair costs hearing is possible and whether it falls within the rules of the employment tribunal.

Any successful claim would be a much-needed financial fillip for the UCU, which is having to cut £2 million from its annual budget by 2015 in the face of falling membership.

But if the UCU were to win its action, it is uncertain how Mr Fraser would pay the bill given his apparently modest income as a maths lecturer at Barnet College for many years.

That issue has also rekindled interest in how he funded his case, which was argued by top London solicitor Anthony Julius, who is best known as the divorce lawyer for Diana, Princess of Wales.

Both Mr Fraser and Mr Julius declined to comment on how the case was funded, but Mr Fraser’s political opponents have asked whether donations were received from wealthy pro-Israeli supporters or even the state of Israel itself.

According to Jonathan Rosenhead, chair of the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine, those supporters should now make themselves known and provide financial support to ensure that Mr Fraser is not declared bankrupt if the case goes against him.

“Ronnie Fraser’s irresponsible legal case against the UCU has cost his union, and therefore his fellow members, a small fortune,” Professor Rosenhead said.

“Those who bankrolled him are equally responsible for this debacle, and they should be held liable for the consequences to the defendant of the legal action they so rashly promoted.”

jack.grove@tsleducation.com

Times Higher Education free 30-day trial

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Reader's comments (1)

Or was it that his lawyer saw a good pay day irrespective of the chance of winning or indeed the balance of evidence. Surely they are equally responsible for costs.

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Post-doctoral Research Associate in Chemistry

University Of Western Australia

PACE Data Support Officer

Macquarie University - Sydney Australia

Associate Lecturer in Nursing

Central Queensland University
See all jobs

Most Commented

women leapfrog. Vintage

Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O’Gorman offer advice on climbing the career ladder

Woman pulling blind down over an eye
Liz Morrish reflects on why she chose to tackle the failings of the neoliberal academy from the outside
White cliffs of Dover

From Australia to Singapore, David Matthews and John Elmes weigh the pros and cons of likely destinations

Mitch Blunt illustration (23 March 2017)

Without more conservative perspectives in the academy, lawmakers will increasingly ignore and potentially defund social science, says Musa al-Gharbi

Michael Parkin illustration (9 March 2017)

Cramming study into the shortest possible time will impoverish the student experience and drive an even greater wedge between research-enabled permanent staff and the growing underclass of flexible teaching staff, says Tom Cutterham