Educational cases – how we can help
May 3, 2021
Rachel Wilson, in-house Counsel provides some guidance for students and their parents who find themselves under investigation by their university, college or school.
Due to our extensive experience in criminal defence, professional discipline and regulatory work we are in a unique position to be able to provide a multi-disciplinary approach and perspective.
Who do we represent?
Disciplinary cases may arise within the educational setting at any stage of a student’s career. We represent students at all levels including those at school, college and university. Unsurprisingly it is an area of law that brings with it great stress and anxiety for both the student and their family such that we are experienced at engaging with students and parents alike.
What types of cases are we instructed in?
Each institution has its own Student Code of Conduct that students agree to when commencing their studies. In considering those rules, cases can arise due to purely academic issues which may amount to breaches of the applicable Code, or in relation to alleged behavioural breaches, more commonly referred to as ‘bad behaviour’. It may also be that a student’s particular vocation carries with it student Fitness to Practise procedures. We are able to represent students in each of these circumstances throughout the investigatory stage and into formal proceedings including committee meetings, panel hearings and appeal procedures.
In some cases, there are allegations or complaints under consideration by the institution which could amount to criminal offences and carry with them the risk of referral and investigation by outside agencies. It may be that there are already criminal investigations or proceedings working in tandem with the educational aspect. Due to our expertise in criminal defence, we are equipped to advise a student and their family in circumstances where there is the question of referral or investigation being posed or where there are multiple sets of proceedings running at once. This includes advice concerning the interaction and preservation of the student’s position in both arenas, their rights and obligations, and working with the institution to ensure that correct procedures and processes are followed.
How might representation assist a student?
Due to the potential lasting impact on a student’s educational career and, depending on the case, the reputational issues that may flow from disciplinary cases it is vital that a student is properly advised. We work to ensure that the correct processes are adhered to, that challenge is brought where appropriate, that investigations and proceedings are legally compliant and fair, and that the welfare of the student is considered throughout. Where appropriate we take a proactive approach from an early stage and throughout the process. This may include the preparation of written submissions, exploration of welfare issues and support for the student, and the preparation of witness evidence and mitigation. Unfortunately, our experience has shown that there are occasions when the institution itself is unfamiliar with applying its own rules, but also in recognising the wider case law in respect of educational cases. It is these circumstances in particular where a student might benefit from legal advice.
How do educational institutions view the instruction of lawyers?
Many institutions don’t welcome the instruction of lawyers and some even state within their processes that lawyers cannot engage in their proceedings. This does not mean that lawyers are not required by a student and it does not mean that the procedural documents are a correct position of the law. For each instruction, we conduct an initial consultation with the client and consider the relevant institution’s procedures to assess how we approach the case and their school, college or university.
In certain cases, we are formally on record such that we liaise with the institution directly on the student’s behalf and attend disciplinary meetings and hearings. In other cases, we liaise with the institution on a correspondence basis and assist the student with their preparation for the case. Alternatively, there are also cases where it is appropriate for us to work with a student and their family on an advisory basis whilst they communicate with the institution. The approach is taken according to the specific facts of the case and the wishes of the client is seeking to work with the institution and an I eve the best outcome for the student.