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Ex-Clifford Chance trainee suing Oxford Uni for £1 million claims ‘inadequate’ teaching stopped him becoming top tax barrister

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Low 2:1 was ‘huge disappointment’, High Court hears

Brasenose College, University of Oxford

A University of Oxford graduate’s failure to secure a first class degree cost him a lucrative career as a tax barrister, the High Court has heard.

Faiz Siddiqui, who studied modern history at the prestigious university’s Brasenose College (pictured top), claims that the “inadequate” teaching on one of the course’s modules resulted in him achieving a low 2:1 instead of a high 2:1 or a first.

The 39-year-old alleges that a number of members of staff in Oxford’s Asian history department were absent or on sabbatical leave and adequate teaching cover was not provided. He also claims that a tutor failed to file medical information about him to examiners.

But despite claiming loss of earnings of at least £1 million against the university, Legal Cheek revealed last year that Siddiqui’s legal career got off to a very strong start. We confirmed that the Oxford grad landed a highly sought after training contract at magic circle titan Clifford Chance.

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Yesterday, Siddiqui’s barrister, 4 New Square‘s Roger Mallalieu, told the court that his client was a “driven young man” who had ambitions of becoming a high-flying tax barrister or solicitor at a top US firm, according to The Guardian. Mallalieu said:

“Whilst a 2:1 degree from Oxford might rightly seem like a tremendous achievement to most, it fell significantly short of Mr Siddiqui’s expectations and was, to him, a huge disappointment.”

After leaving Clifford Chance, Legal Cheek understands that Siddiqui went on to work in the tax departments of a number of law firms and completed his masters in taxation at London’s Institute of Advanced Legal Studies. Mallalieu continued:

“He and others became the victims of poor teaching provision by the university in what was anticipated to be his favoured special subject, and he, uniquely among his peers, was further disadvantaged by his personal tutor not conveying his knowledge of his illnesses to those responsible for making reasonable adjustments and for moderating his examinations.”

Siddiqui, who graduated in June 2000, also argues that his clinical depression and insomnia have been significantly exacerbated by his “inexplicable failure”. Mallalieu told Legal Cheek:

“I imagine my client will be giving evidence for the first couple of days following openings tomorrow and then the other witnesses thereafter, with closing speeches Tuesday or Wednesday next week and judgment probably reserved.”

Oxford Uni’s barrister, 11KBW‘s Julian Milford, told the court that Siddiqui had complained about the lack of resources but said that he had not noticed anything wrong with the quality of the teaching provided except it was a “a little bit dull”. The university denies negligence and causation and says Siddiqui’s claim is time barred.

The hearing is scheduled to last seven days and is concerned only with liability. If successful, Siddiqui’s damages will be assessed at a later date.

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44 Comments

Anonymous

loser

Anonymous

I studied law at one of the best Oxford colleges and I can tell you, the teaching at Oxford is uniformly shit. Especially if you are being taught by ‘weekenders’. His case does highlight a very troubling phenomenon is that people cream themselves over someone who has a First from Oxford.

Anonymous

Plenty of people with Oxbridge Firsts who have a shit legal career out there and conversely plenty of people with shit degrees from shit universities making a shed load of money in law out there … but I do think that his lawsuit will have a wider public benefit in that Oxbridge colleges will be found to have an enforceable legal obligation to provide a satisfactory service, not saying he will be successful in his case but it will potentially make some new law as to the legal obligations of university education providers.

Anonymous

FFS. Sometimes life doesn’t live up to expectations, and part of succeeding is accepting that and moving on. Who knows why his career expectations haven’t been met – lack of Oxford First probably isn’t at the root of it all. Surprised this has even made it as far as a court room.

Anonymous

Well the University did apply for strike out but it was refused – I think the application was handled poorly; instead of focusing just on just the core legal principles (e.g. limitation, frivolity, causation) the University relied extensively on a factual case based on disputed statistics about those graduating with a 2:1 leading the judge to conclude that those were clearly triable issues.

I think this must be doomed to failure on causation grounds.

It would have been a much more interesting case if it was a recent graduate suing on alternative grounds in relation to the actual fees paid (e.g. if it were possible to run some form of CRA 2015 price reduction argument but even that is difficult given the nature of the contract)

Scep Tick

How the hell did this not get slung out under the Limitation Act 1980? His alleged loss must have crystallized with his first failed job application. It was a ridiculous decision not to throw the case out – it is certainly not going to be a fair trial to the defendants in trying to recall events nearly 20 years ago. Smacks of a Tab judge.

Anonymous

See the failed strike out/summary judgment application a year ago – http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/QB/2016/3150.html partic at paras 74 and 103.

(and no, Kerr J not a tab – Magdalen College Oxford 1975)

Anonymous

What is a tab judge please?

Anonymous

One who writes for the student rag that KK loves copying from.

A trainee

No you fool. It is an Oxford term for Cambridge student. Because of Cantab.

Anonymous

So the writer has saved having to write “Cantab” (which everyone would understand) and has managed to get away with “tab”? Now why would he or she do that?

Anonymous

2.1 from Oxford, and couldn’t get into a well-paid career? Seems about right, give him whatever he wants…!

Anonymous

What an absolute idiot, read the ****** text book, or e law resources or something. Its not unis fault if you decided not to bump up your own grade

Anonymous

It was a history degree…

Anonymous

“I’m not getting the job I want so it must be someone else’s fault” typical self-entitled behaviour

Anonymous

And yet, clearly not a “millennial”

Anonymous

Where in my comments did I call him a millennial?

Honest Recruiter.

US law firms fall over themselves to hire Tax associates from Magic Circle firms, they often recruit Tax associates from much less prestigious City firms because there are often shortages. If he was unable to get an offer from a US law firm as a Clifford Chance Tax Associate, it won’t be because he only got a 2:1 from Oxford.

Anonymous

I may sue the FA as I didn’t become a pro footballer because their scout failed to recruit me at the Lilleshall trial in 1997. This is despite me playing above average. I then spent years on the sesh, quit football and became unfit. £10 million please.

Anonymous

Last time around, when the strike out by Oxford failed, it became clear that this Claimant had put in a well measured claim, very professionally. There is far more to the depth of the claim than your football example.

Anonymous

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

Anonymous

What a twit. Oh poor me, I only got a 2:1 from Oxbridge, a TC from CC, and then went on to a well-paid career, surely I deserve something more, I know – I’ll blame the university 16 years after the fact.

Anonymous

This shit is still going on?

Anonymous

Poor poor man

Anonymous

The reason he didn’t get the job is down to fundamental character flaws.

Anonymous

Some of the teaching at Oxbridge can be surprisingly bad. There’s a small number of students and tutors, and the the latter don’t prioritise teaching. Some years it does all go tits up, because the ones who can teach all go off on sabbatical and the students get someone freelancing well outside their field for a bit of extra cash.

I am, however, extremely dubious as to how you’d prove that those circumstances caused a law student not to get a top grade and therefore “ruined” his career. No one is owed a first.

Anonymous

If I recall, one of his cohort got uplifted to a first after making similar complaints to the claimant. She then got a pupillage and subsequently a tenancy at a top chambers.

You can bet that if Oxford had found Peter Smith hearing this case, they would have shat themselves.

Oxford need a whitewash here, but if the lad and his counsel have the resources to appeal, it puts real pressure on the high court. Particularly if all the defence counsel can come up with to aid the whitewash is “at the time he thought it dull, nothing more.”

From memory that simply isn’t true so imagine the court of appeal being faced with that lamer as a reason they have to uphold to save Oxford.

This is a classic comrades, hold back on your light weight comparables and your I’ll thought out insults.

Cockney Geezer

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

Anonymous

Last time, I read the strike out application and summarized the issues thus. 21 votes in favour, 1 against.

I’ll attempt an intelligent analysis of a very interesting case in the time I have available:

1 A Dr of History yielded to pressure to teach a module in Indian History which centred on Gandhi to 16 students, even though this was an unwisely high number for one Dr, who had other commitments, to take

2 A student, Sasha, was so concerned about the quality of his teaching, as it unfolded, that she set up a tutorial network herself among students.

3 A particular part of the Oxford style syllabus appears to be called “Gobbets”. You prepare for and get examined on Gobbets. If I recall correctly, only 10% of the Gobbets that appeared in the exam paper were actually covered by the Dr in tutorials.

4 Sasha ended up getting a first and becoming a barrister. However, she made a complaint about the Dr and the Gobbets issue which, if I recall correctly, progressed through a number of eminent academics in serious bureaucratic positions for about a year.

5 I think it is fair to say that the idea that the Dr should not have been put in the position of teaching 16 students alone was conceded and, from memory, one feels that Sasha’s complaint about bad teaching was upheld.

6 The Claimant – C – was in a more complex position than Sasha. He was ill during the tutorials and the run up to the exam period, and he went through the procedure to apply for what I call a potential uplift to his grade on medical grounds.

7 He was awarded a 2.1 and it seems that Oxford have a tutor write a letter to you when you get your result. The letter stated that C ‘s result in in the particular module was disappointing. The wording happened to alert C to the idea that his medical uplift may not have been taken into account and he complained.

8 Coinciding with Sasha’s complaint, I think, the uplift issue was looked into. C was, in fact, uplifted from a 2.2 to a 2.1 for the relevant module. C did not know about Sasha’s complaint.

9 A short time later C applied for and was rejected by a prestigious US University for a Masters. He became concerned about his reference. I think it is fair to say that he wished to try and improve it, and he asked for references to be written assuming he was “at the top of his game” bearing in mind the medical problems and, adding for the first time, in ignorance of Sasha’s complaint, that the relevant module had been appallingly badly taught.

10. I am not sure, from memory if anything material happens until 2009 now.

11. In 2009 he is involved in applying for a Masters in Tax Law. I think the jist of it is that having a mere 2.1 becomes a problem in the circles he is moving in and he positions for a re grade of his initial degree. Apologies to C if that is not correct.

12 If I remember correctly, this is rejected. He evidently was enrolled in the Masters anyway, so I don’t think he took any further action.

13 Sometime later he returns to Oxford for a reunion with some of his friends. One mentions the legend that someone who did the relevant module got a regrade to a first class degree after complaining about it at the time. C cannot believe this because he has been plagued by the consequences of that course, and he wastes no time in investigating further.

14 C traces Sasha, who, it seems does not confirm this upgrade outcome (though she did get a first), and who does not wish to be a witness for him, but does give him some of her complaint documentation from the time.

15 C aggrieved with Oxford University’s handling of his matter has a bit of too and fro with them and issues a professional negligence claim.

16 It seems that both Leading and Junior Counsel are engaged by C – it looks like Direct Access. Oxford evidently defend with similar artillery – Bevan Brittan – a well known national solicitors firm, and a barrister called Milford.

17 Litigation commences with particularization of issues, fact finding for claim and defence, and disputes about how to frame the issues for trial.

18 The knock out legal application Oxford have made, which has resulted in all the publicity, including LC’s coverage, is made late in the day by their legal team. From memory the litigation is around 2 years old at today’s date.

19 The knock out blow is difficult to attain because the threshold for allowing a claim to go to trial is relatively low. C hurdles it and can go to trial.

20 C’s best case appears to be that the particular kind of professional negligence in education is what I remember as being called something like “systemic negligence”. Ie if Gobbets were not covered and if the tutor should not have been teaching 16 students on his own, that is negligence. You don’t need any expert witnesses for this kind of negligence, like you do for other kinds in this specialized legal field.

21 There is an argument as to when the date of knowledge from which the 3 year time limit to bring a claim starts to run. Is it around 2001 when C complained and mentioned the appalling teaching, or is it in approx 2013 when C was told the information by his old friend at the reunion which led him to Sasha.

22 Oxford failed to knock the claim out on the 2001 date being key this time. It seems that there is an analysis of limitation whereby you can have knowledge which falls short of the knowledge of needing to take litigation but being enough knowledge to complain about something. C arguably falls within that until the reunion. There is also a discretion to disapply a time limit.

23 The preliminary judge found that the claim is well prepared enough for trial and there is a triable point on damages.

I would observe that underpinning this claim is the idea that a 1st class from Brasenose, rightly or wrongly, is an easy passport to greatness. This would be the bar, like Sasha, or the American Masters degree etc. Lose that, and you come within what sociologists call the broad mass of labour and you may never climb up the slippery pole so high.

Perhaps some readers do not know that Clifford Chance take around 120 trainees a time, it is Single Cream of the crop, not Double Cream of the crop.

I think there must be a risk that Oxford behave with courses like this all the time, and C senses that. If that is correct then, arguably, with his Clifford Chance experience trumping Bevan Brittan and barrister Milford he has forced a mistake from Oxford.

If Oxford do do this with their courses, they are doing it to the wealthiest and best connected students in the country. C may fail, but good grief, Bevan Brittan and barrister Milford have allowed C to open a flank for the second wave of students who have only recently been badly taught, have they not ?

Oxford are going to need a clever High Court Judge to stop the floodgates opening, I would guess, and if C has the resources to appeal this would be fascinating.

For the keen eyed, It is potentially an insight into tactics gleaned from an international practice drawn from the richest individuals and most powerful corporations, versus the tactics of a national law firm.

The influence of Gandhi pervades…”just because you are in a minority of one, does not mean that you are wrong”

I hope that helps those who have not got time to read the 22 page judgment attached to the LC article.

Anonymous

What a brilliant summary, thank you!

Anonymous

your summary was excellent, thank you

Anonymous

Julian Milford is a lovely man and I’m sure he will beast this chancer with some perfectly charming cross examination.

Intelligent person

He went to Oxford. He asked for it . He got it.

What is the problem?

1st go to a decent uni.

General Melchett

Like Hull!

Anonymous

is it really a 3 year limitation for professional negligence and not 6 years?

Anonymous

The applicable limitation period in most professional negligence cases is six years from the date of the negligence. However, this may be extended where the negligence only becomes apparent at a later stage. In those cases the relevant limitation period is three years from the date of knowledge of the facts which might give rise to a claim. There is a long stop date of fifteen years within which claims must be brought.

Anonymous

Is it the lack of an Oxford first that’s held Mr Siddiqui back, or is it his medical condition, which no doubt deteriorates when he’s under sustained pressure? I would have thought there’s quite a bit of pressure in the life of a high-flying tax barrister or solicitor at a top US firm. Surely, a sensible course of action would be not to follow either career path on health grounds. I’m sure with a 2:1 from Oxford Mr Siddiqui could have carved out a decent career in law, just at a slightly lower level than he aspired to, what’s wrong with that?

Anonymous

It is clear to me that his reaction to this setback reveals character traits that would have made him unsuitable for his preferred path.

I am glad the hidden curriculum still functions as it should.

anon

Can’t believe Roger Mallalieu would even consider taking the case on. Are the two careers connected!?

Anonymous

Generates media attention, all publicity is good publicity.

Anonymous

Bring back Not Amused.

Anonymous

It’s just he is thick that’s why he couldn’t do well, for goodness sakes he was studying history, how did he think he’d become a top tax barrister

Anonymous

I blame Lord Sumption running round giving non lawyers unrealistic hopes that they can become top QCs

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