Sussex protest students receive a ‘caution’

Lawyer criticises university for drawn-out process that has led to ‘mere reprimand’

March 14, 2014

Four students subjected to disciplinary hearings for their involvement in campus protests at the University of Sussex say they have been given a “caution” from the institution.

One of the students involved said that the caution comes after he had been “dragged through the mud” for four months of “politically motivated persecution”.

The university has not confirmed the outcome of the case against the students but maintained that it has acted “properly and correctly”.

Sussex suspended the students in December last year after a seven-night occupation of the Bramber House conference centre. Some of the group were also involved in an alleged blockade of campus traffic on 3 December. The actions were part of an 18-month campaign against the outsourcing of campus services.

Sussex later reinstated the students pending a disciplinary hearing. But the subsequent hearing, which had the power to exclude or suspend the students, collapsed in January after the group’s lawyers accused the panel’s chair of bias.

The university’s Student Disciplinary Committee then reassessed the cases and they were heard under a different regulation in early March. At these hearings the students faced a maximum penalty of £250.

Lawyers representing the students branded this second set of hearings as “unlawful” and claimed the university “failed to act in accordance with its own regulations”. The solicitors also said that the students had no obligation to pay any fine imposed on them.

A statement issued by the students said that they have now been told they face a caution from the university. It added: “The students refuse to accept the legality of the previous hearings, and still refute any allegation they have acted improperly, and are continuing to seek legal advice.”

A Sussex spokesman said that no immediate punishment is imposed as a result of a caution. However, cautioned students are warned it will have consequences if they are found guilty of another breach of discipline. In this instance the first breach would be regarded as an “aggravating circumstance” when considering a sanction for the second offence.

Simon Natas, a partner at the students’ legal firm Irvine Thanvi Natas Solicitors, said: “My clients faced allegations which were initially thought serious enough to justify their suspension and possibly even expulsion from their university but which have now resulted in a mere reprimand.”

He added: “Even that decision was made following a procedure which we consider to have been unlawful and which may be open to further challenge.”  

One of the students involved, Michael Segalov, said: “It is now becoming clear to all that this entire process was unnecessary and illegal. I have maintained throughout that participating in peaceful protest action is something to be encouraged, and is not punishable.”

In a statement Sussex said: “The repeated claim by made by some that the university has sought to restrict peaceful protest is, and always has been, nonsense.

“Protests have repeatedly descended to violence, campus property has been damaged, the personal property of staff has been stolen and individual members of staff have faced intimidation.”

It added: “All discipline matters are overseen by the university discipline committee, whose chair and members are independent of executive management.”

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