University students, misconduct and admin law

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Y v University of Queensland [2019] QSC 282 is the latest case in the vexed world of university student misconduct, disciplinary proceedings, and criminal law.

What does Y’s case teach us?

Before we talk about the case, what “take aways” did another student (who is doing a summer placement with me) get out of reading it? It was interesting to hear her observations. She thinks:

  • the case highlights the importance of understanding your organisation’s own policy and procedures;
  • clarity in those procedures is so, so important;
  • universities (and employers) need to be consistent when disciplining students (or employees);
  • as a decision maker, you need to think about not just what you can do, but what you cannot do;
  • be aware of the duty of care owed to students and staff, but don’t forget the university’s reputation either.

What’s this case about?

Y, a student, obtained judicial review of a decision of the University of Queensland and the Disciplinary Board of the University of Queensland.

The Board had sent a notice of allegations to the student, and was ready to hear and decide those allegations. They were allegations of sexual assault, and the hearing was to be under the University’s Student Integrity and Misconduct Policy.

The Supreme Court restrained the Board from hearing the allegatinos. The Court found that the Board did not have jurisdiction.

The allegations were at least partly found to be allegations of criminal offences.

They were not just allegations of breaches of a sexual misconduct policy.

How does this case affect your University or government employer?

It’s common for criminal acts, or allegedly criminal acts, to be part of a disciplinary investigation. Or part of the landscape of a disciplinary investigation. This can happen in the public service, or in a university, or anywhere, really.

You are an employer, or university, or some sort of regulator. But you are not the police, and you can’t lay criminal charges. How are you supposed to work out what to do?

I will add to this article in the coming weeks. But what do you think?

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