Wolverhampton back to court over 'harm' claim

February 18, 2005

A law student who was handed £30,000 by Wolverhampton University after he claimed he had received a substandard education has returned to the courts to accuse the university of "intentionally inflicting harm" on him after his landmark payout.

Mike Austen, who is now studying law at Bristol University, hit the headlines in 2002 after the out-of-court settlement of his claim that Wolverhampton had breached its contract with him and had misrepresented itself in its prospectus.

Representing himself without a lawyer, he is now using an obscure part of the law protecting people from harassment to accuse Wolverhampton in the High Court of the "intentional infliction of harm".

The university successfully persuaded the court to drop Mr Austen's claims for defamation, breaches of obligations and confidence and a breach of the Human Rights Act, but it failed to strike out the claim for infliction of harm, which is expected to go to a full hearing within months in what could be a groundbreaking case. The High Court will also hear Mr Austen's claim that the university breached the Data Protection Act in refusing him access to information.

The Times Higher first drew attention to the concerns of Mr Austen, a former airline pilot, in October 2001 when it reported his complaints about exam-room chaos, erroneous exam papers and widespread student cheating.

In July 2002, he obtained £30,000 in a settlement of his claims without the university admitting any liability.

Mr Austen declined to comment this week but, according to the claim submitted to the High Court, he says that the university made "false and defamatory" statements that he is a "sociopath". The university made the claim in its defence of Mr Austen's original county court case and allegedly repeated it to an official at the Department of Work and Pensions.

Mr Austen is also pursuing a claim that the university breached the Data Protection Act when it refused him access to examination scripts and documents passed by the university to Estelle Morris, who was then Education Secretary, regarding his original legal case.

Wolverhampton declined to comment. The university is understood to have spent a six-figure sum in the earlier settled case and to have racked up about Pounds 70,000 in costs in the current case. It is understood that the university is seeking permission to appeal against the High Court's decision to allow a full hearing on the "intentional infliction of harm" claim.

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