Whistleblowers: Aston faces £100,000 High Court claim

March 7, 2003

Aston University faces a High Court claim for more than £100,000 in damages next week from a former PhD student who hopes to set a legal precedent and consign the quasi-judicial visitor system to history.

Kevin Wilkinson relocated his wife and two children from Dubai and left a well-paid job to begin a PhD at Aston in 1997. But when he arrived in Birmingham, he found there was no one properly qualified to supervise him as his agreed tutor had left the university.

After a lengthy dispute, Aston's vice-chancellor agreed that his experience was "far from satisfactory", offered him an apology and repaid his fees.

But Mr Wilkinson is claiming damages for the wasted time and lost potential earnings.

The case will initially hinge on whether the courts will be prepared to hear the case, as Mr Wilkinson has refused to refer his complaints to Aston's visitor - the queen.

Case law has established that the visitor's jurisdiction is exclusive, and the courts have usually refused to hear cases against universities with a visitor who in practice is usually represented by the Privy Council or Lord Chancellor's department. Mr Wilkinson is represented by trail-blazing education lawyer, Jaswinder Gill, who will argue that the visitor system is outdated, lacks independence and transparency, lacks sufficient expertise and is not capable of providing Mr Wilkinson with the kind of remedy he requires - compensation and damages.

With his argument tacitly backed by the government, which plans to legislate to scrap the visitor next year, he is hoping to set a legal precedent and ask the High Court to override the visitor's jurisdiction.

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