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Judgment reserved: Ex-Clifford Chance trainee suing Oxford Uni faces wait over £1 million ‘inadequate’ teaching claim

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High Court success could pave the way for further claims

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An Oxford graduate who claims that “inadequate” teaching cost him a lucrative career as a high-flying lawyer faces a wait to find out if he has been successful in his High Court challenge against his former university.

Faiz Siddiqui, who studied modern history at the University of Oxford’s Brasenose College, argues that his failure to obtain a first class result in his undergraduate degree stopped him landing a job as a high-earning tax barrister or solicitor at a top US firm.

Legal Cheek can now confirm that judgment in Siddiqui’s case has been reserved, with a spokesperson for the Judicial Office telling us that a decision is “not expected before Christmas”.

If successful, Siddiqui’s damages — for which he is seeking an eye-watering £1 million — will be assessed at a future hearing. Oxford denies any wrongdoing and claims the case has been brought “massively” outside the legal time limit.

One factor that is set to be crucial is the impressive start that the 39-year-old’s legal career got off to. As news broke of Siddiqui’s unusual challenge earlier this year, Legal Cheek confirmed that the disgruntled Oxford grad had secured a highly sought after training contract at global giant Clifford Chance.

Post-magic circle, Legal Cheek understands that Siddiqui worked in the tax departments of a number of law firms and completed his masters in taxation at London’s Institute of Advanced Legal Studies.

The latest comments from across Legal Cheek

Siddiqui, who graduated in June 2000, alleges that a number of staff in Oxford’s Asian history department were absent and did not provide adequate teaching cover. He also claims that a tutor failed to file medical information about him to examiners, and that his clinical depression and insomnia have been significantly exacerbated by his “inexplicable failure” at this earlier stage of his life.

Representing Siddiqui, 4 New Square’s Roger Mallalieu told the court that “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.” He continued:

“He [Siddiqui] 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.”

If successful, the case could pave the way for similar legal claims — jobless law grads stand by.

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28 Comments

Anonymous

Honestly, this is probably the most absurd case I have ever heard of. He over-estimated his abilities and now needs someone to blame. Not sure anyone will employ him after this, and if they do, not sure he will reach the heights that he’s been dreaming of. Although the £1m might help him sleep better.

Kam Gunnoo

The blame culture has gone one step too far.

Anonymous

life is too short

Nofunatparties

Please can we all go to:

https://www.legalcheek.com/2017/11/ex-clifford-chance-trainee-suing-oxford-uni-for-1-milllion-claims-inadequate-teaching-stopped-him-becoming-top-tax-barrister/

and read, ‘Anonymous Nov 22 2017 4:29pm’ for an excellent summary, before we immediately jump to conclusions on this?

Thanks

Anonymous

That summary is great, and I’m just going to copy-paste it below for those who can’t be bothered to click through. LC should’ve included more of its content in the above:

“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.”

Scep Tick

The date of knowledge is plainly 2001. It is impossible now for the trial to have been fair given the passage of time. There is a reason why the Limitation Act was passed.

Anonymous

Has he even overestimated his abilities? I think the most absurd element of the claim is the fact that he appears to have been highly successful – Clifford Chance followed by jobs at US Tax Firms? I highly doubt his ability to go to the tax bar at that stage has anything at all to do with only getting an Oxford 2:1. Haa he even tried to get a tax pupillage?

Claim must fail on all elements (perhaps with some limited success on breach).

Interesting to see what the costs decision is – will it make any difference if Oxford are in breach but losses are irrecoverable due to limitation/causation etc? One hopes not

Anonymous

Good point. How rubbish was the teaching of one portion of his course, that someone heading for a first only got a two-two?
Notwithstanding the measly 2.1 he was awarded post consideration, the door to his dream mega-career was opened with a training contract at an MC firm. What happens next is arguably a reflection of his ability to do the job he aspires to, not the fact that he didn’t get a first. And by the way, is a modern history degree really the best grounding for a career as a tax barrister?

Sim

I think this will send a message to all universities to look after the individual needs of a student more efficiently, too many people are failed by the system and when shit hits the fan nobody wants to know.

Fuck that shit, education is an important factor in people’s lives, so much depends on it. Just like we rely on our police, army, government and rail services, education determines where the economy stands.

His grounds are legitimate, this is why the courts are taking it seriously. Anyone who has been through clinical depression will know what it feels like to not have the motivation to even get out of bed let alone anything else.

The University has a duty of care to complete a set of guided learning hours in the classroom and to ensure that staff are consistent and if this is not the case then adequate measures are in place to provide those at an unfair advantage with a balanced amount of advantage.

Just like lawyers and law firms can get held negligent for words and bad advice, is the same way teachers and educational institutes ought to be held accountable for their actions.

Although in this particular case I am not aware of all the facts, whilst I agree that he has judicial standing for court, only the trial can determine the outcome!

Anonymous

If you read the facts then you would perhaps understand why the vast majority of people commenting are so incredulous that this case has got so far.

Legna & Lived

Hey guys,

remember that case in Company law class that we did years ago about Separate legal personality. Well I got a 69% on the exam instead of a first because I didn’t know the full name of the Solamon case. Maybe I should sue. Its not my fault, I only remembering my tutor mentioning “A Solaman” rather than Solaman v A solaman.

I could have became president by now if I had received a first class.

Anonymous

Its not the same as your (flippant) company law analogy.

In this case, the university continued to offer a course in Asian history with a substitute tutor that had no subject expertise in Asian History!! – That is a joke.

they also failed to file his medical information

Anonymous

The thing about a degree in history, though, is that there is nothing stopping you from going off and doing lots and lots and lots of your own extra reading. Of course, law students can do this as well, but their interpretation and understanding of course materials is greatly helped by tutorial guidance. Not necessarily the case with history.

Anonymous

In response to Anonymous at Dec 4 2017 11:49am

the university has a contractual obligation to provide teaching staff to provide the primary service of teaching. the university failed to do that.

– the university cannot complacently rely on “able students” who are then forced to make up for the university’s careless and knowing shortfall.

– in amongst all of this, is an important principle of a students right to receive adequate teaching that must be enforced. Especially as we are living in the age of trebled tuition fees.

Anonymous

Your analogy might have been better if you’d actually got the name of the case – Salomon v Salomon – correct…

…also, if your attention to detail is that bad, it’s surely a fair question to ask whether your performance in the rest of the paper was as good as you think.

Anonymous

Somebody has a sense of entitlement

Pepe

In some ways this isn’t unwarranted at all.

Firstly given that magic circle firms largely and therefore on a balance of probability “deterministically” seek candidates solely from Oxbridge and the equivalent​.. and further given that students are subject to the rampant promulgation of the commodification of education in the form of fees, loans and debts etc….it would follow that failure to deliver the commodity sought (post the passing of consideration and other preformance by the candidate) by the purported purveyor would and should attract liability on a reliance basis.

Failure to provide a remedy here merely sustains the tired fiction long sold to the more impecunious of us that education has some kind of ill-defined relationship with merit and talent.

Grumpy Wadhamite

Can you please remove the photograph of Wadham College and replace it with a picture of Brasenose? Maybe do some basic research, huh?

Grumpy Wadhamite II

Seconded!

Lord Harley of Counsel

Claim dismissed.

Anonymous

While I see some merit in his argument about a first may have improved his employment prospects on the basis (1) the management by his college shows the teaching was not to the usual high standards one would expect as well; (2) a peer received some preferential treatment; there is some serious difficulties in persuading the court he would have been a world beater.

While he had enough for a solicitor role it will be hard to prove he would have become a tax expert at the highest level.

BPTC student

Umm… What’s his “but for” proposition on these facts?

Anonymous

For my degree at a RG uni I got my last choice in module options more than once. For two of my modules the experienced professor who designed the class was out on sabbatical and we had less experience cover lecturers. I made the best of it, got on with things, and then got a 1st and a good TC later, instead of stewing in the injustice of it all for decades.

These kinds of things happen at uni. If you’re still bitter about them years later, instead of moving on with your life, then there’s something very wrong.

Anonymous

10 years later and it’s still all about you…

Anonymous

there is a difference between less experienced (in your case) and no experience (in the claimants case)

Anonymous

Wanker.

Anonymous

This is ridiculous.

Claimants 2.1 from Oxford and TC from CC is ample.

Performance post qualification has more bearing than his result studying ‘history’.

I would question a firms integrity should they place more emphasis on a candidates non relevant degree qualification (2.1 and above) than his work experience, especially at 5 years + PQE.

This sounds like he hasn’t made it and is pandering to his ego.

One will achieve ones goals if desired greatly enough. A 2.1 from oxford and MC training is more than a sufficient springboard.

Guest

Ridiculous but look how much publicity and how many people discussing it, success surely?

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