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Oxford law grad sues Jesus College for loss of earnings after being ‘denied reasonable adjustments’ in her exams

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24-year-old’s solicitor talks to Legal Cheek about the rationale behind the claim

An aspiring lawyer is suing one of the world’s most elite universities over claims it forced her to drop out for a year.

Oxford graduate Catherine Dance, 24, has issued proceedings in the county court against both Jesus College and the University of Oxford, alleging they failed to make special arrangements for her exams.

Dance suffers with chronic anxiety and depression, which impacted her throughout her Oxford experience. Legal documents detail the effect this had on her exams and applications for graduate jobs.

To help combat her symptoms, Dance requested she take her exams in a private room with a laptop. She claims she had been able to do this at school, and made such known on her UCAS application.

But Oxford wouldn’t allow it, and she suspended her studies in April 2015. She returned in April 2016, and only in January 2017 (a year and nine months after her suspension) were Dance’s requested adjustments finally approved. Her claim forms — seen by Legal Cheek — state both Oxford and Jesus College are “jointly liable” for Equality Act breaches.

The Oxford grad will be represented by Chris Fry, Equality Act specialist and managing partner of Sheffield-based Fry Law, which was founded earlier this year. Fry was previously managing partner of Unity Law, currently listed on Companies House as ‘In Administration’. He told us:

The denial of reasonable adjustments impacts your degree and certainly impacts your job prospects and training contract chances. Students denied reasonable adjustments are unable to go on to qualify with the full range of opportunities available to them had the adjustments been made.

Dance has now sued for psychological harm, the year’s loss of earnings and £2,174 in additional student finance costs. This sum will be quantified with the help of expert evidence, but legal documents state she expects to recover no more than £22,000.

Denying the claims, Jesus College said it did make “appropriate adjustments” for Dance. A spokesperson told Legal Cheek:

Jesus College denies all allegations of discrimination. It takes its responsibilities towards students with a disclosed disability or health condition very seriously. The college repeatedly encouraged Miss Dance to seek counselling in accordance with the university’s recommended procedures. It made a successful application to the university for Miss Dance to sit her final exams with the ‘adjustments’ she had requested for her condition and she was able to complete her degree successfully.

Dance’s case is far from unique. Fry told us he has plenty of enquiries from students considering suing their university for discrimination.

A big worry for practitioners like Fry is the short six-month limitation period imposed by the Equality Act. He is concerned by the number of students approaching law firms out of time and, interestingly, he blames this on the higher education providers. He said:

Six months is a rubbish limitation period, but universities know what the position is, and are aware of this when dealing with student complaints internally. It’s tactical.

Fry, who completed a financial and legal studies degree at Sheffield Hallam University in 1998 and then became a partner at Wake Smith & Tofields in 2003, adds that students should be properly informed of the funding models available for legally enforcing their rights (Fry is representing Dance on a no-win no-fee basis) and, of course, what their rights are themselves. This lies with the university, argues Fry.

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85 Comments

Anonymous

Every student has chronic depression and anxiety nowadays. Get her gone!

(33)(42)

Anonymous

#snowflake

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Anonymous

Career suicide.

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Anonymous

No it isn’t , it’s more common than you realise whereby students have been allowed to sit their exams in isolation due to factors such as anxiety . I know of two who are now successful lawyers in the MC and SC .

(10)(9)

Trumpenkrieg

She could become a Labour MP

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(2)(0)

Trumpenkrieg

That actually made me chuckle.

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Trumpenkrieg

Also, my father is incorrigibly liberal.

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Anonymous

You’ve never sat on an interview panel before have you? Let me give you a clue about the kind of comments that lawyers tend not to make in front of their peers: “Yes, well her CV is good and she performed excellently at interview, but I have googled her and found out some information that it would be illegal for us to take into account, so I propose we act on that and give the job to someone else.”

(16)(4)

Anonymous

This comment is so naïve. You seriously think law firms (and other businesses) don’t take into account matters which it would be illegal to take into account when considering someone’s application? Try being a minority applying to a predominantly white medium – small sized firm and then come back to me.

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Anonymous

I believe that interviewers are influenced by their unconscious and conscious biases. I absolutely do not believe that it is common for lawyers in reputable firms/chambers to articulate the fact that they are discriminating illegally in front of their peers. I absolutely cannot imagine anyone bringing this matter up in the course of any discussion on hiring. I have sat on recruitment committees myself.

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Anonymous

And I would add that I think that the majority of lawyers take their professional duties very seriously, and would strive not to discriminate illegally.

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Anonymous

Hate to say that when shortlisting people (especially women) at my old firm I used to look at their Facebook photos.

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Anonymous

Snowflake.

(15)(17)

Anonymous

I’m depressed and anxious: can I get a laptop pls?

(21)(14)

Anonymous

I’d question a lawyer who takes on this sort of claim

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Anonymous

I am a lawyer who takes on this sort of claim. What questions do you have please? I am not sure I have the time to explain the entire law of reasonable adjustments to you or the social concerns that gave rise to that law but I am happy to help. May I suggest that you start with the following from Archibald v Fife

” 47. According to its long title, the purpose of the 1995 Act is ‘to make it unlawful to discriminate against disabled persons in connection with employment, the provision of goods, facilities and services or the disposal or management of premises . . . ‘ But this legislation is different from the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and the Race Relations Act 1976. In the latter two, men and women or black and white, as the case may be, are opposite sides of the same coin. Each is to be treated in the same way. Treating men more favourably than women discriminates against women. Treating women more favourably than men discriminates against men. Pregnancy apart, the differences between the genders are generally regarded as irrelevant. The 1995 Act, however, does not regard the differences between disabled people and others as irrelevant. It does not expect each to be treated in the same way. It expects reasonable adjustments to be made to cater for the special needs of disabled people. It necessarily entails an element of more favourable treatment. The question for us is when that obligation arises and how far it goes.”

If there is anything that you do not understand after that about the fact that disabled people are entitled to ask for more favourable treatment then please ask and I will be happy to explain the legal framework.

Oh I am sorry did you mean to question the morality of the lawyer who is taking this claim on in the knowledge that he may not get any payment and knowing that there is a procedural hurdle of establishing that it is just and equitable to extend time for bringing the claim? Perhaps you could explain your objection and I will try and assist.

(26)(11)

Anonymous

Does anxiety and depression make her disabled, or ill?

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Anonymous

A very good question. Thank you for asking it. The answer is of course that it depends. Firstly she would have to establish that the anxiety/depression caused more than a minor or trivial interference with her ability to undertake ordinary day to day activities. She would also have to show that that was “long term”. That latter concept is complicated but suffice to say if the condition has, or on the evidence is likely to persist for 12 months then the definition of disability will be met. Elsewhere in this enlightened comments section was the suggestion that if she is permitted to take antidepressants she could not be disabled. That is incorrect. For the purpose of assessing disability treatment is disregarded.

Depressive illnesses often impact upon concentration and very commonly are found to be disabilities. I can understand why it was suggested that private exam room was a reasonable adjustment but of course much would depend on the facts (and as this is Legal Cheek they are few and far between).

I hope that helps with your question. If not please let me know and I will try and help.

(16)(4)

Anonymous

I think the jist of it is whether you can cope day to day and what reasonable adjustments there are to help you cope. You can be depressed and cope by taking good or bad self medication e.g running or meds or alcohol or tobacco. If you cannot get through the day like this or with meds then it moves from an illness and becomes a disability. There is some sport for middle class professionals in contesting whether someone is actually suffering from a disability or not. Depending on which kind of master feeds their children and buys their cars and holidays, doctors and lawyers will dispute the circumstances of a particular person.

It is implicit in the legal cheek report that initially oxford maintained the student could be made to cope with the (grim) reality of her life at university by counselling sessions. She maintained that she needed a lap top and private study, as she had at school. The school probably had greater resources for lap tops and private space than the oxford college.

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Not That Anonymous

It’s just Trumpenkrieg being an (un)funny bellend again. Nothing to see here…

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Anonymous

So…in a dispute , Oxford would pay a law firm and look for a doctor who would say that the student could be made to cope with counselling (their only solution perhaps, at the time), they provided counselling and discharged their legal duty. The claim would therefore fail and the no win no fee lawyer would risk going into administration for taking the claim. Possibly for the second time.

The student would find a lawyer who would instruct a doctor who would say that she could only cope with private study and a lap top, and so providing this was the hurdle of oxford’s legal duty, her lawyer would say.

In the one case oxford is funding the doctor and the lawyer’s lifestyle, in the other it is the student.

A judge will take a view after about a year of litigation, an appeal court after a further six months. This is the world that the 24 year old has inherited.

There is not much joy in the situation and so it will not cure anyone’s depression.

In a galaxy far away, lawyers such as Karl Marx and Fidel Castro have tried to start revolutions rather than engage in such professional mediocrity with their lives and soul, as did Jesus, the forgotten man of the college in question. Che Guevara similarly did so. He was a doctor. He could have been a local triathlete doctor giving meds to the depressed trying to earn a nice sideline as an expert witness in equality cases instead. Fidel as a no win no fee lawyer could have instructed him and enjoyed an athletic hobby. But the two of them , like Jesus, were not ordinary people.

(2)(4)

Anonymous

What?

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Malaysian of Counsel

Bleh

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Real lawyer

You’re obviously not a real discrimination lawyer. The Equality Act 2010 is the law of the land today, not your long repealed Google find ….

The moral sentiment of the comment is correct though. Not enough is done for the disabled in this country.

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Anonymous

I’d question a lawyer whose quote begins “Six months is a rubbish limitation period…”

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Anonymous

What the hell is wrong with a six month limitation period for discrimination claims? Why is it “rubbish”?

Stale or speculative claims are such obvious potential problems in this area that a short limitation period is inevitable, and desirable for both sides.

(4)(5)

Anonymous

So 3 years for a low impact PI claim and 3 months for an sexual harassment claim at work. Probably fair to regard the justification of the different limitation periods as “rubbish”.

(6)(1)

Anonymous

Why? The bases of the claims are completely different.

An act of sexual harassment is known at the time, is obvious and requires no period of investigation by the claimant.

One aspect of the limitation periods in this area, I’ve always suspected, is to make misuse of the system more difficult for embittered employees who bring nuisance claims, egged on by wretched claimant lawyers.

(4)(2)

Tim

Typical disablist comments from clueless bird-brains who fancy that they can second-guess about mental health issues, disability and disability discrimination and then succeed at nothing, except exposing their profound ignorance and the rampant disablism within the profession.

I get more vindicated by the day.

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Anonymous

Is this actually Tim, or a mischievous impersonator?

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Tim

The real one. You can check my small penis to confirm if you like.

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Anonymous

There isn’t much scope for ‘reasonable adjustments’ in the real world. Anyone suffering with mental illness has my sympathy, but if you are incapable of writing on a piece of paper while sat in a hall with other people, I seriously have to question whether you’re going to have the resilience to practice as a lawyer.

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Anonymous

I agree with your comments about the “real world”.

However – this is a university which has explicitly stated its commitment to providing reasonable adjustments to people that require them on disability grounds. They should therefore honour that commitment.

Also, whilst it is certainly not routine, it IS fairly common to provide a laptop and a room to people who require it ….. there is one guy in my year who has this arrangement and its not controversial it is treated in a standard manner.

Fingers crossed the day will come when everyone can do their exams on a laptop. Modern requirement. No hand ache or illegibility.

(5)(3)

Anonymous

Yes but in the real world, how often do people have to actually write with pen and paper? I’m a programmer and type far far faster than I can write (I also have dyspraxia), why limit my answers to the speed of my awful handwriting as opposed to the speed of my brain?

(18)(3)

Anonymous

This comment is a game changer on the subject for me. Well said comrade.

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Anonymous

As a lawyer a lot. Especially as a Barrister. I would suggest you got a job that fits your attributes namely programming which allows you to use your computer skills, in other words you adjusted your position rather than expecting the world to adjust to you.

(3)(0)

Anonymous

I’ve had depression which led me to receive 2.1 rather than an easy 1st in my penultimate year. Should I sue my University? Come on… Seriously.

(4)(10)

Anonymous

You probably don’t have a cause of action for depression because there are doctors waiting to give you meds so you can cope with what 2017 has to offer you for a reality. If oxford forbid meds then you would have a cause of action. It would be interesting for me to compare depression and meds in GB and the USA versus Cuba. Hasta la victoria siempre !

(5)(4)

Anonymous

When will people just accept that ‘depression’ is just a word the weak use to justify why they’re the bottom feeders of society. These snowflake millennials need to wake up and smell the coffee; if you don’t have some backbone, the world will chew you up and spit you out

(12)(29)

Anonymous

Help me out on this depression is the word the weak use to justify why they are the bottom feeders of society….what is the comparable word that the strong use to justify why they are the top feeders of society please ?

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Anonymous

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

(4)(2)

Anonymous

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

(0)(0)

Reagan

‘Capitalism’

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Anonymous

^Exactly this. You either play the game, or hop off the bus my friend.

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Anonymous

Capitalism creates depression because it makes it impossible for humans to stretch their psychology to the max by loving their neighbour. It is not a comparable word to depression. I suggest instead that the strong are merciless or remorseless.

Hitler used to have an expression…the justice of mercy is not applicable. He was a top feeder, the leader of the third Reich. This expression is an epiphany.

Margaret Thatcher, leader of the top feeding Conservative Party during the 1980s had a remorseless expression….there is no such thing as society. This expression is also an epiphany.

The epiphanies are interesting. Thatcher’s comments could have applied to feudalism. The sentiment creates the society. National Socialism was created by people and financiers who thought like Hitler.

The trick now is to try and establish new age communism, so that the young will have the chance to have better morals than their elders and so aid better social structures than you and I are currently part of.

(2)(4)

Anonymous

The left always quote that Thatcher statement dishonestly. What she said, in full, was:

“I think we’ve been through a period where too many people have been given to understand that if they have a problem, it’s the government’s job to cope with it. ‘I have a problem, I’ll get a grant.’ ‘I’m homeless, the government must house me.’ They’re casting their problem on society. And, you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first. It’s our duty to look after ourselves and then, also to look after our neighbour. People have got the entitlements too much in mind, without the obligations. There’s no such thing as entitlement, unless someone has first met an obligation.”

The ideas of personal obligation and of doing good for others are too embarrassing for the left to recognise, presumably, when it believes that all good comes from the state.

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Anonymous

It is a worthy defence of thatcherism, but the tories or bildebergers of the day did not believe in society. Witness how they turned public institutions over to financiers…bt , gas and how they depleted the human capital of British energy reserves (miners) to permit the financing of alternative energy sources which had no attendant community provision. It is a trick of the right to promote people like you who take their narrative at face value and do not delve to the source of the geopolitical movement underneath the narrative.
Incidentally, notice how you could not defend Hitler. The covering narrative for the financiers who supported Hitler is not acceptable today. Thatcher ‘s financiers are ok because people like you don’t try hard enough to understand the morality which is in play.

Trumpenkrieg Spotter

And this one —-^

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Anonymous

my supervisor told me off for doing some sloppy drafting. Can I take a year off because he hurt my feelings?

(11)(10)

Anonymous

your supervisor should be more concerned for your lack of quality comments / shite banter….for that, you can take a year off….

(19)(6)

Delicate Flower

I sharpened my pencil too loud and my supervisor called me a ‘mutton-headed mugwump’. Can I take a year off..?

(15)(4)

Trumpenkrieg Spotter

Sounds like your supervisor is in fact Boris “Hoh Hah Umm. Piffle” Johnson. I’d seriously think about taking indefinite or even infinite time off….

(0)(5)

Anonymous

I was being serious. If these youngsters are getting ‘triggered’ by every little thing that hurts their delicate souls, I may as well see what I can get away with.

(2)(5)

Anonymous

Legal cheek comments are a cesspit. You’re all fucking morons how are any of you lawyers…?

(11)(7)

Anonymous

Because we don’t try to sue our University…

(12)(3)

Anonymous

Most of them have FAILED to become lawyers, hence the BS they write on here.

(7)(2)

Anonymous

That comment could apply to Alex, Katie and Tom too…

(2)(0)

Disabled Person

Due to a road traffic accident, I suffered a double hemi-spherectomy as a consequence of a botched sagittal hemi-corporectomy, which impacted on my ability to sit my finals. Can I sue my Uni?

(3)(5)

Max

The problem she faces is proving the loss of earnings. It might be difficult to argue she could work in the courts for example or undertake a training contract or pupillage at the Bar with the mental health issues she faces.

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Snowflake of Counsel

Mid trial I asked the judge if I could have a break because I was getting stressed and it was causing me extreme anxiety and depression.

The judge shat his pants laughing and is now suing me for the cleaning bill.

Who can I sue?

(10)(3)

Anonymous

Your university.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

She will be claiming injury to feelings though, won’t she ? Or is that only a remedy for employment law ?

(0)(0)

Anonymous

I’m sure she could easily complete a TC or pupillage, anxiety like this tends to be very selective.

(1)(0)

newcitylaw

I graduated from Oxford in 2016 having had two years out due to medical issues (I had a serious operation and experienced anxiety following that). I knew so many people at Oxford with similar issues , it’s a very pressurised place. I was really lucky – I unexpectedly graduated with a first, along with a couple of prizes and am now working full time.

While I understand what she’s gone through, I don’t agree with her decision. Her medical issues are not her college’s fault, just as mine were not my college’s fault. The fact that they allowed her to return to finish her degree is, to my mind, evidence that they are being supportive. No law firm want to employ a litigious trainee and sadly she may have taken a metaphorical sledge hammer to her future career prospects.

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Latvka Da blitz

Newcitylaw. What you doing ‘ere mate? This site’s don’t usually see your sort, I mean, sane, adult , a lawyer and who knows bout medicine n stuff

(6)(0)

James smith

A poor strategic move on her part. Upside: getting 22k. Downside: no law firm will touch her! Shouldn’t be flaunting this.

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Anonymous

Too right that sort of litigious nonsense – enforcing the law and all that stuff – shows she is unfit to be a lawyer and enforce the law and all that stuff. Lets face it it did not do John Horan any good did it…oh sorry I just checked it seems that that is not quite right.

(2)(7)

Anonymous

Well, I think that her claim sounds completely sensible. It’s absolutely ridiculous that the university wouldn’t let her do her exams on a laptop in a private room if she made a sensible medical case for it. This takes an absolutely minuscule amount of resources, and plenty of people must take their exams on laptops at the university for various reasons in any given year. She was right not to agree to take her exams without this adjustment (why should she have risked lower grades?), and it’s reasonable to assume she has been set back a year in employment because of her time off.

(1)(9)

Anonymous

LC commentors are getting nastier and nastier nowadays. Never seen such a disgusting group of people in one place since being on here. I shudder to think if this is how the legal profession is nowadays, law students and trainees behind their screens and the anonymity and saying horrible things.

(6)(8)

Anonymous

And yet here you are…

Poopoo face!

(7)(1)

Trumpenkriegfinder General

I have a strong suspicion (as always) that it’s the same one person (maybe another joining in “for shits and giggles”) taking on different (yet similar – essentially Alistair out of The Riot Club) personas (I’m sure he’ll point out this should correctly be personae) with the aim of annoying/appalling what he would call “normals” (those with a moral compass) because he thinks it’s funny…

You remember that trick Kim-jong May pulled having the camera limit its field of vision in order to give the impression that there were more people at her pathetic rallies than was actually the case ? Well, basically Trumpy is pulling off a similar tactic – trying to give the illusion that there is a body (oops sorry corpus) of people who share similar odious views to his (which may be affected rather than genuine – haven’t quite decided as yet).

Care in the legal community ?

(4)(3)

Anonymous

I would agree with this, except there are always a lot of likes for posts expressing what I would consider quite extreme views. Maybe it’s possible to up vote a post twice if you delete your cookies or something. But I do get the feeling that Legal Cheek has for some reason attracted an odd democratic of struggling and alienated male undergraduates and recent graduates who have fixed upon political correctness as a bogeyman to blame for the challenges in their lives.

(6)(2)

Anonymous

Blerg – that should read demographic. Not sure if autocorrect or lack of sleep.

(0)(0)

Trumpenkriegfinder General

I think Trumpy and his band of 1-2 (more likely 0) want you to think this. You’ll notice that there’s a very high correlation between the syntax, style, semantics and terms used in the comments if you look closely that makes it fairly obvious.

There are several tricks for downticking/upticking the same post (e.g. keep changing your dynamic IP address) if you’re really sad enough to be arsed and have the time (as he appears to)…

Or perhaps you’re right and there is a more sizeable group of young fascists taking refuge here. I do hope not though 🙁

(2)(2)

Anonymous

You’re overthinking it.

Trumpentwat is just a wanker. All of the obnoxious posters on here are just wankers, especially the racists (lots of nasty little anti-semites in particular), women haters and homophobes. And the ‘hilarious’ ones who post under absurd names, they’re also just wankers.

But there’s no deep explanation needed: they’re all pathetic little students.

(2)(0)

Trumpenkriegfinder General

P’raps I guess..

What happened though ? I’m sure students back in my day weren’t quite as twatty – certainly not as right-wing (even the plums that were). Are you now only fashionable and hip if you’re a sneering uber right wing bellend with a trust fund ? Have Nirvana T-shirts, the Guardian and Trabbs given way to pocket watches, tweed, chinos and a subscription to Breitbart ? Strange times…

(1)(0)

Anonymous

I think it’s about law. Some law students have always been more socially awkward and politically conservative than the norm. The effect is that there is a disproportionate number of money obsessed, small-minded childish tossers doing law. They generally want to be city solicitors.

(Of course some law students are radicals, some are thoughtful, some are charming etc.)

(2)(0)

Anonymous

What makes you think Trumpenkreig is posting when no comments use his moniker ?

(2)(0)

Cockney Geezer

Hats off @ 223
It’s like ow it used to be in them days of the public stocks, outside fleet street, Tyburn sq et al

(0)(0)

Lord Harley of Counsel

I got a pass degree from ‘Uddersfield.

When reasonable adjustments were made it was the equivalent to a Double Honours summa cum laude from Trinity College, Oxford.

It shows how important adjustments are.

(11)(0)

Anonymous

Scrolling down the comments, many are exposing themselves as peabrained university kids jealous of the girl and ignorant of the law.

On the face of it, it is of course a perfectly reasonable claim. She would have a clinical diagnosis from an educational psychology and others. And the adjustments are very reasonable, all universities I know of operate exams for these situations. The EA 2010 is clear. Why on earth Jesus didn’t act on it is beyond me, but it strikes me as a stupid administrative error from some minions which caused extraordinary disruption and I can’t see how the girl can lose.

(2)(2)

Anonymous

Anyone who looks at a case and says I can not lose or similar, will inevitably lose.

(1)(1)

Anonymous

The reported speech by legal cheek does not mention that the student says she had an educational psychologist. Oxford say that they recommended counselling for her chronic anxiety and depression. Legal Cheek has illuminated over the last 12 months that it is common practice at Oxford to seek an uplift to your degree result on medical grounds at oxford so oxford may be wary of a try on mentality.
Perhaps they did ignore the student’s educational psychologist first time round but I would be surprised.
It is worth a shot as a test case for a no win no fee lawyer and oxford will have to defend it for fear of floodgates. It is not a racing certainty imo.

(2)(3)

Anonymous

I do not know much about equality law, but understand a lot about litigation strategy and tactics. Going public with this is not a sound idea.

(3)(0)

Comments are closed.