Visitor does work

September 17, 1999

A good deal of alarmist piffle is being uttered lately about the impact of the Human Rights Act on the institution of the visitor in universities and colleges, much of it emanating from practising solicitors perhaps unhappy that they are in practice excluded from a potentially lucrative area of work. Your latest report ("Visitor unwelcome in law", THES, September 3) of the views of an academic lawyer calls for a number of comments.

* Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights applies to "the determination of civil rights and obligations". Much of the work of visitors could not be so described.

* It is not for universities, collectively or individually, to act. The visitor operates by virtue of common law (as modified by Act of Parliament) whatever the charter or statutes may say. The system could be changed only by Act of Parliament.

* It is not true to say that visitors are not subject to judicial review.

* The visitor cannot deal with matters that raise points of ordinary English law, such as breach of contract, which must go to the courts.

The system provides a cheap, effective and independent scrutiny of certain disputes within institutions. To force students to go to the courts instead could only be urged by those whose experience of litigation, whether as claimant or defendant, is limited or by those who hope to profit from such a change.

Graham Zellick

Vice-chancellor

University of London

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