How far would you go for silence in the library?

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By Alex Aldridge on

Court hears that law student lay in street with a noose around his neck in protest at noise in library, having also threatened hunger strike and suicide.

Noisiness in libraries has prompted plenty of bust-ups, particularly in the fraught run-up to exams, but rarely does it result in litigation. This, however, is what happened in the case of law student Paul Durney, whose battle with Melbourne’s Victoria University has just culminated in a decision by the Supreme Court of Victoria in Durney’s favour.

It all began in 2008 when Durney complained to library staff about noise. Over the next four years his unhappiness seems to have bubbled away under the surface until it exploded in 2012 in a series of incidents, which according to The Australian “upset and worried staff”. These incidents reportedly included:

1. Durney shouting about the noise.

2. Durney saying that he was going on hunger strike.

3. Durney threatening suicide.

4. Durney allegedly swearing at a staff member on the student engagement desk.

5. Durney laying in the street outside the library with a noose around his neck, and having to be taken away by police.

6. Durney laying in the street outside the library with a bag on his head.

At which point Victoria University vice-chancellor Peter Dawkins warned Durney he was considering excluding him for the safety of others, and urged him to seek expert help. Durney responded by arguing that the university was failing to meet its duty to provide areas for silent study. After further consideration, the decision was taken to exclude Durney from campus.

The noise-hating law student took exception to this and used the legal knowledge he had gleaned to hit back through the courts, issuing a claim against Victoria University which argued that he had been a victim of procedural unfairness.

Crucially, the university failed to make Durney aware of all the allegations against him, informing him of only seven out of the 27 reports of library-related incidents they had received.

With the case having wound its way up to the Victorian Supreme Court, Durney — who represented himself — this week emerged victorious as it was held that the process leading up to the decision to exclude him from campus was unfair. “When the exclusion decision was made, it is plain that there was a denial of procedural fairness and natural justice to Mr Durney,” said Justice Greg Garde.

Victoria University law library must have been an interesting place to be this week.