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Let students lawyer-up for all university complaint hearings, urges barrister

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Daniel Sokol says that many unis ban legal reps from attending

A barrister and former lecturer has called for students to be allowed to lawyer-up for university hearings.

Dr Daniel Sokol of 12 King’s Bench Walk says that students are often banned from bringing a lawyer or other representative into internal hearings, despite the often “life-changing” consequences.

Sokol, who advises students on their legal rights in disputes with the academic authorities, reports that the daunting environment of a hearing before a panel of lecturers makes many unrepresented students feel like “criminals”.

The medical ethics expert wants Students’ Unions to rise up and campaign for legal representation in all kinds of university hearings.

Students can end up in a hearing in lots of different situations, such as where they bring a complaint or an appeal against a failing. They might also be brought into a hearing as part of the uni’s disciplinary process.

Robin Jacobs of Sinclairs Law says that while legal representation can be required in certain circumstances, “there is not a general, automatic right for a student to be accompanied by a lawyer”.

The Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) advises universities to allow legal representation in disciplinary or fitness to practice cases that are “complex” or “where the consequences for the student are potentially very serious”.

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But where the student is the one requesting the hearing, the OIA reckons that lawyers don’t need to be involved. Its guidance says that “it will not be appropriate for a student or the provider to be legally represented at an academic appeal hearing except in the most exceptional circumstances”, and that “in most cases it will not be necessary or appropriate for a student or the provider to be legally represented at a complaints panel or meeting”.

Although unis don’t have to follow these guidelines, many do. Sokol told Legal Cheek that “from my experience, the vast majority of higher education institutions don’t allow legal representation. The enlightened ones, like Salford, are definitely the exception rather than the rule”.

He argues that students should have the right to whatever representation they want in any kind of university hearing, saying that “like in disciplinary and fitness to practise hearings, the consequences of an appeal or complaint hearing can be life-changing for students”.

Writing on the Wonkhe website, Sokol says that “all enlightened institutions should allow students whatever representation they desire, whether it’s an SU adviser or a formal lawyer”.

Sokol, a former medical ethics lecturer, specialises in personal injury, clinical negligence and education at 12KBW. He is also the founder of Alpha Academic Appeals, which offers students legal support with uni appeals.

Speaking to Legal Cheek, Sokol said that “my hope is that the OIA will alter its guidance to encourage universities to allow students representation of their choosing and that student unions will also fight for this”.

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18 Comments

Independent observer

Well Sokol would say that, given that this is an area that he practises in.

Anonymous

Is it legal to deny representation as described?

US firm associate

As someone who has been on the receiving end of one of these witchhunts, I agree that legal representation should be allowed in these hearings. They can otherwise end up being kangaroo courts.

In my case, the panel destroyed their notes after making their decision. It took 6 years to get justice but it took a lot of stress and effort that may have been avoided had I been allowed to have legal representation

Anonymous

Was that at a university?

US Firm associate

Yes a London University

Anonymous

Did they allow any representation at all, or just not legal representation?

US firm associate

No representation at all. Only accompanied by Student Union

Anonymous

Did the university have legal representation?

What was the Student Union rep like?

The ides of March

Quasi-judicial proceedings so Tarquin can make sure he gets the right grades to prevent embarrassment for daddy’s chums when they hire him into their investment firm.
Flash forward 8 years and a coked out Tarquin, motions to the hookers leaving his Knightsbridge apartment in the direction of a draw where their remuneration lies, pre-counted in tidy bundles.

As Tarquin puts together a speedball, he wonders on the ease and majesty of his life. How, despite severely injuring that Big Issue seller outside his Durham halls, his god father, Lord Bigwig QC had given the university board hell and won the day. “What a day that was” he thought as he gently tapped the syringe.

The tabloids were bought out and the broadsheets respectfully cited his death from “unknown causes” as a sad waste. Either way, his bold willingness to fight the system was admirable and a great use of the university’s time and resources.

RIP Tarquin.

Lewis Lewis

So, in other words, nobody should be allowed legal representation, ever, because not everyone is able to afford it?

Tarquin

The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.

Still, one must feel sorry for Ides to have that big a chip on his shoulder. He must be terribly dull at a dinner party or a shooting weekend.

ALawyer

Given Daniel Sokol makes a very large amount of money drafting appeals for students, it is no surprise that he would want appeals to be opened up so he can make more money representing them as well.

Lewis Lewis

That’s not fair. Like everyone else, he presumably expects to be paid for his work. But looking at his background, he clearly got into this area due to an interest in the issues and a desire to confront unfairness. If his sole aim was making money, I expect he’d be in shipping law or something like that. The same goes for other lawyers in the field.

Corbynista

Hi Daniel

Shipping lawyer

@Lewis Lewis – You’re obviously not in shipping law…

Anonymous

Given that a bit of private banter on Whatsapp can have a poor lad suspended in these days of Metoo hysteria, I see force in his point.

CretinHunter

The word is ‘drawer’

Mason Boyne

If you’re worried about vested interests, look no further than the OIA. Set up by the universities and funded by them. No wonder they uphold so few complaints.

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