Wannabe barrister wins £20k damages from his uni over false ‘criminal behaviour’ claim

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By Thomas Connelly on

Damages obtained by Geoffrey Robertson QC working pro bono should cover the cost of the BPTC nicely


An aspiring public law barrister has landed a £20,000 payout after Sussex University falsely alleged that he had led an unlawful occupation of campus property and carried out acts of criminal behaviour.

The university’s claims were made in two news bulletins that it posted on its website about Michael Segalov — a final year law and international relations student at the time — and four other students who were suspended over their involvement in campus protests.

The demonstrations — which took place in November and December of 2013 — involved students occupying Sussex University property in protest over the privatisation of the uni’s services.

The first of Sussex University’s “defamatory” articles was published on 5 December 2013. It was entitled: “University starts disciplinary process over persistent disruption of campus”. A second related news bulletin was published several days later. It was headed, “Disciplinary processes continue as University lifts student suspensions”.

During his suspension, Legal Cheek spoke to Segalov, who confirmed that he, along with his fellow suspended protesters — quickly dubbed the “Sussex 5” — had secured the legal expertise of Doughty Street Chambers‘ high profile duo Geoffrey Robertson QC and Jude Bunting on a pro bono basis. He also spoke about his plans to become a barrister.

The Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (OIA) later deemed the suspension of Segalov and co to be unreasonable. The independent body recommended that the uni apologise and compensate the students involved.

But yesterday came the most sensational chapter in the story.

In the wake of the university admitting there was “no truth” to some of its reportage about Segalov, the 22 year-old — who is currently working as a freelance journalist — was awarded a staggering £20,000 in damages plus his legal fees. That’s what happens when you’ve got Geoffrey Robertson QC on your side.

Speaking to the Guardian, Segalov said:

The University of Sussex administration showed a blatant disregard for basic principles of law when attempting to clamp down on protests — suspending students wrongfully, banning protests, and publishing defamatory statements about me online.

In a major climbdown from its position last year, Sussex University has issued this statement on its website:

The university is making this unreserved apology to Michael Segalov because it is the right thing to do. We must make it absolutely clear that Mr Segalov did not engage in criminal activity. These matters have now been resolved and we hope this correction will help everyone to move on. The university confirms that the damages paid to Segalov will be £20,000 plus legal fees.