The General Council response to the University Court re Code of Student Conduct
Court Resolution No. 117/2022
The views of the General Council were sought on revisions to the Code of Student Conduct and these were prepared by an ad-hoc Working Group and approved by the Conveners before submission in November – see comments below. We recommended that once the current proposed amendments have been incorporated, there should be a further review of the whole Code. This was considered at the Court meeting on 5 December and paragraph 11 of the Court paper states that 'further development work on the Code and conduct process will be considered, taking into account comments from Senate and General Council'.
General Council comments on revised Code of Student Conduct
1. We note that the Senatus Academicus (Senate) has responsibility for the Code of Student Conduct and the many proposed changes – summarised in Appendix 1 - emanate from it.
2. The reason the views of the General Council have been sought is because introduction of the Code requires the University Court to approve a Resolution (No 117/2022) and the General Council has a statutory right to comment on Resolutions. Our comments have been produced by members of the Business Committee with diverse expertise in the creation and operation of Codes of Behaviour and in legal and in pastoral care issues.
3. Although the title of the document is ‘Code of Student Conduct’, this is rather misleading because it is mainly about Procedures for dealing with Misconduct by students, not about how to encourage or promote good behaviour by students.
4. The proposed key amendments to the Code seem largely sensible. We note that Legal Services Department provided legal advice on the amendments, not the Code as a whole.
5. While supportive of the amendments, these have been grafted onto what was already a long, complex document and the many additions and changes make the document even more difficult to follow. We recommend that once the current proposed amendments have been incorporated, there should be a further review of the whole Code with the aim of addressing issues such as:
a. Creating an easier to follow document, for example by the addition of a 'Quick Guide' or 'Flowchart', showing the key steps of the process, who is involved, and relevant timescales.
b. Cross referring the text to other highly relevant policies. The University has an 'Expected Behaviour Policy', which relates to Appeals, Complaints, Student Conduct and Related Procedures but this is not mentioned in the Code of Student Conduct. There is reference to the University's Complaints Procedure but sometimes there is ambiguity about which procedure should be used.
c. Providing a clear definition of what constitutes Misconduct. Misconduct is at the heart of the Code. Yet, it is not defined. Instead of a definition of Misconduct, clauses 13 and 14 give a very wide series of non-exclusive examples of student misconduct, ranging from criminal offences such as is given in 13.3 (Violent, indecent, disorderly, threatening or offensive behaviour or language…. including sexual violence or abuse of any Person) to internal rule-breaking under Clause 13.9 (Failure to comply with any University rule….) Those examples essentially say ‘misconduct is misconduct’. That is not appropriate in terms of both substantive or procedural fairness.
The main changes to the Code of Student Conduct now proposed are:
- Clarifies that the Reporting Party in a case will be given the opportunity to respond to new evidence provided by the Respondent, where relevant;
- Where the Student Discipline Committee withdraws from a Respondent the right to cross-examine directly the Reporting Party (in order to safeguard the wellbeing of the Reporting Party), an amendment clarifies the arrangements for ensuring that the Respondent retains the right to challenge the evidence presented by the Reporting Party, in order to maintain a fair process;
- Clarifies the Reporting Party’s right to complain about the way the discipline process has been conducted at the conclusion of the process;
- Clarifies the nature of the decision made by a Conduct Investigator when they refer a case to the Student Discipline Committee, in order to prevent confusion regarding the fact that it is the Student Discipline Committee which makes the ultimate determination as to whether the allegations are proven;
- Extends the length of the notice period given to Respondents in advance of a hearing of the Student Discipline Committee to ten working days, in order to allow Respondents a more appropriate length of time to prepare for a hearing;
- Clarifies that the Student Discipline Committee has discretion to decide which of the witnesses named by the Conduct Investigator should be invited to a hearing of the Committee;
- Establishes criteria for Respondents wishing to provide new evidence or bring forward new witnesses to the Student Discipline Committee, where such evidence or witnesses have not been presented or named during the Conduct Investigation process. This encourages more active engagement in the Conduct Investigation process by Respondents, and prevents the need for the Committee to have to carry out a frontline investigative process at the hearing, which imposes an unreasonable burden upon them;
- Adds provision for the Respondent to notify the Student Discipline Committee of any preliminary issues relating to a hearing five working days before the hearing. This will prevent procedural issues being raised on the day of the hearing, which can lead to adjournment, and cause delay for all parties;
- Extends the Student Discipline Committee’s power to apply suspensions of specified privileges as a penalty to a student for up to the remainder of the student’s studies (full suspension remains limited to one year). This may present the Committee with a reasonable alternative to permanent exclusion in some cases;
- Removes “requiring the Respondent to write an approved apology to any wronged party” from the range of penalties available to the Student Discipline Committee. This penalty is inappropriate in the kinds of serious cases considered by the Committee;
- Where the Student Discipline Committee upholds an allegation of misconduct against a Respondent who is on a programme which is subject to fitness to practise requirements, an amendment clarifies that the Committee will always refer the matter to the relevant Fitness to Practise Committee for consideration.