Recent disciplinary proceedings: a statement from Liverpool University

This typescript document was found in Professor Hair’s archive.  It is clearly a draft (there are some penned alterations on the document) and may well have originated in the Vice-Chancellor’s office.  Though no name or position is attached to the paper, it clearly represents the position of the University authorities at the time – May, 1970, shortly after the appeals had been heard.

A further clue as to the provenance of this document is to be found in the archive of the Registrar, HH Burchnall, where there is an ‘Advice Note’ written by WM Stannard (the barrister who presented the University case at the disciplinary hearings) dated 21 May 1970.  It is a lengthier version of the document below, written in more formal legalistic language. We can assume that someone in the University administration adapted it for planned public consumption.

There is a covering note from Stannard to Burchnall which begins:

“Unjustified criticism has recently been published of the procedures adopted by the Board of Discipline and the Board of Appeal in disciplinary proceedings.  I am asked to advise the Registrar how these criticisms might be answered publicly. I hope that this statement … will prove helpful in replying to the criticisms which have been made.”

In the preamble to his Advice Note, Stannard advises “that no statement should be publicised before a reasonable time has elapsed in which application might be made to the Courts for a prerogative order or declaration or injunction in regard to the disciplinary proceedings”. Was the paper below never published simply because, by the time the danger of legal action had passed, the issue had dropped out of sight as far as public and student conciousness was concerned?

Recent disciplinary proceedings

Since disciplinary proceedings were first instituted against ten of the students who took part  in the oocupation of the Senate House at the end of last term, many rumours have circulated within the University and outside about the proceedings and the way in which they were conducted. So long as appeals were still pending it was felt that the University could not, without incurring the possibility of prejudicing those appeals, issue any detailed statement about the proceedings. A purely factual report, which the Board of Discipline was obliged to make to Senate and Council, was, however, widely circulated within the University towards the end of April. Now that the appeal proceedings have been completed the University feels that a fuller statement would be appreciated.

The Disciplinary Ordinance and Regulations

The Ordinance and Regulations under which the proceedings were brought were introduced in the autumn of 1969 following the approval by the Privy Council of an amendment to the University’s Charter and Statutes which allowed the Senate, for the first time, to delegate its disciplinary powers over students to an Advisory Board, a Board of Discipline and a Board of Appeal . The provisions of the new Ordinance and Regulations were drawn up after a considerable amount of discussion and consultation extending over a period of two years (1966-68), in which the appropriate Officers of the Guild of Undergraduates (who had the opportunity of consulting the Executive of the Guild) were involved on more than one occasion. There is, therefore, no justification for any feeling that they represent a system introduced without the knowledge, or against the wishes, of the official representatives of’ the students who were in office at the relevant time.

The decision to employ Counsel

In order to ensure that, in the interests of those charged as much as in the interests of the University, the charges were properly and  fairly presented, the University decided at an early stage that their presentation to the Board of Discipline should be in the hands of a professional lawyer.

The students concerned were informed of this in the notice sent to them more than two weeks before the hearings opened. They were also informed that they could themselves be legally represented if they so wished. In the event, the students did not employ legal representation before the Board of Discipline and, in order to ensure that the students suffered no undue disadvantage as a result, the Board did not permit counsel for the University to cross-examine them. It was, moreover, made clear to them that they were not obliged themselves to give evidence or to make a statement if they did not wish to do so, nor to answer any questions on any statement that they did choose to make. The argument that the employment of counsel by the University in the proceedings before the Board of Discipline weighted the scales unduly against the students concerned is not, therefore, supported by the facts.

Public or private hearing?

Some (but by no means all) of the difficulties caused by the circulation of  rumours and false information about the proceedings of the Board of Discipline could, perhaps, have been avoided had the Board agreed to the request which was made to it by the students concerned, before the hearings opened, that they should be conducted in public. The chief argument which persuaded the Board that such a request was not practicable was the absence of any powers on the part of the Board to maintain order in a public hearing and to take any action to deal with ”contempt of court”. There was ample evidence to suggest that a public hearing would have been made the opportunity for a demonstration and that there would have been no means of ensuring that the proceedings would not be disrupted. The Board, therefore, saw no reason to depart from the normal practice followed by other domestic tribunals.

The question of a transcript

It has been alleged that the Board of Discipline refused to make available to the students for the purpose of their appeals a verbatim transcript which had been taken of its proceedings. The disciplinary regulations require that if  an appeal is lodged against a decision of the Board of Discipline, a summary of the evidence presented in the case shall be prepared for the benefit of members of the Board of Appeal and that, if the appellant requests,  a copy shall also be made available to him. For this purpose the regulations also provide that the Secretary of the Board of Discipline shall keep a precis of the statements made by witnesses and a minute of the proceedings. A request made by the students before the hearings began that arrangements be made for a verbatim transcript to be taken was not granted by the Board because of the practical difficulties involved, but it was agreed that, in order to ensure that as full a note as possible was taken, the notes taken by the Secretary should be supplemented by notes taken by shorthand typists during the hearings. It is on the basis of these notes that a summary of evidence and proceedings was, in fact, prepared and made available both to the Board of Appeal and to the students who appealed.

The Principles of Natural Justice

The claim has been made that the way in which the hearings of the Board of Discipline were conducted was such as to constitute a denial of natural justice. The principles of natural justice requiring that a person charged with an offence shall be informed in advance of the precise nature of the charge, shall be given an opportunity to hear the evidence against him, to question witnesses who give evidence against him, and to produce evidence and to speak on his own behalf, were all observed in the procedure adopted by the Board of Discipline.

The treatment of evidence

The students concerned had asked that they should automatically be granted an adjollrnment of  proceedings once the case against them had been presented so that they could then go away and start thinking about the sort of defence they wished to make. The Board was not prepared to agree to a procedure which was likely to have the effect of drawing 0ut proceedings to an unreasonable extent. In order to meet any reasonable difficulty, however, the Board did agree that written statements by witnesses of events during the occupation which were to form the basis of the case should be sent to the students in advance.

The Board of Discipline was very much concerned with the nature and scope of the evidence presented to it and was frequently obliged to disallow the calling of witnesses whose evidence would in its view have been repetitive or irrelevant to the charge. The test of relevance was applied equally to both parties.

It has been claimed that, in the first case heard by the Board in particular, the restrictions imposed by the Board operated unfairly and that, whereas the prosecution was allowed almost five hours in which to present its case, the defence was allowed little more than an hour. In fact, the record which was kept of the proceedings during the first case shows that, although the presentation of the case for the prosecution took about 3 hours, compared with 2 hours for the defence, almost exactly half of  the 3 hours nominally occupied by the prosecution was in fact taken up by questions, statements and submissions by the defendant.

The nature of the offence

Part of the reaction which has been expressed in some quarters against the nature of the sentences imposed by the Board of Discipline and now, for the most part confirmed by the Board of Appeal, has been on the ground that it was, after all “only a sit-in”;  that this has now become almost a matter of routine; and that no other University seems to have taken  an incident of this nature so seriously. There is admittedly a widespread illusion that there is nothing very much wrong with a sit-in: it cannot be stated too frequently or too forcibly, however, that, of its nature, a ”sit-in” is always an illegal act which involves a trespass. Moreover, the occupation of the Senate House involved in addition the seizure and forcible retention of a building and the deliberate exclusion of the staff from their normal places of work.

The consequences of the occupation

It has been suggested that the occupation was not objectionable because it interfered only with the administration, whilst the main activities of the University – its teaching and research – were not affected. This belief depends upon a naive understanding of the way in which a large and complex institution such as the University is in fact run on a day to day basis . The following are among aspects of work directly connected with teaching or research which were severely hampered or, in some instances, completely prevented during the period of occupation: work on the provision of new buildings or the conversion of old accommodation for teaching or research; the processing of applications for local authority grants to enable students to undertake academic work during the vacation ; work on the filling of many academic posts; delay in which may well have deterred number of good applicants; and the cancellation of an undergraduate examination. Other long-term consequences for the University’s teaching and research work are inescapable.

The nature of the defence

None of the students who appeared before the Board of Discipline denied having taken part in the occupation of the Senate House, nor having done so with the intention of preventing the administration from functioning. All, nevertheless, pleaded Not Guilty to the charges against them and six went on to appeal against the verdict of guilty returned by the Board of Discipline.

Part of the Defence advanced was that their action was justified by their failure to achieve their objectives (”the five demands”) through constitutional means.

Different views will no doubt be held as to what degree of moral justification (if any) might be claimed for such action in such circumstances. There can be little doubt, however, that the occupation of the Senate House was a clear breach of the law and of University discipline and this reflected in the decisions by the Board of Discipline that the students were guilty of the charges brought against them, decisions which in six cases, were confirmed by the Board of Appeal after hearing the cases anew.

Another argument advanced by the defendants was that responsibility for all actions taken during the occupation should be shared equally by all those who participated in it, since all had had an equal opportunity to determine policy. One defendant went further, and stated that,since he belonged to a number of organisations (eg. the Merseyside Socialist Students Federation) which had, at some time before the meeting in the Union addressed by the Vice-Chancellor on March 9th decided that an occupation of the Senate House should take place and since this organisation operated on the principle of democratic centralism (ie. the principle that every member is bound by any decision taken by the majority of the members) he had had an inescapable obligation to take part in the occupation and should not therefore be held individually responsible for his actions. This argument the Board of Discipline emphatically rejected and held that, regardless of how a policy had been determined, any individual implementing such a policy would be aware of any risks he took in doing so.

Considerations affecting the penalties

In considering the nature of the penalties to bc imposed, the Board of Discipline had in mind primarily the degree of responsibility which the evidence had shown each individual to have carried for the organisation and continuation of the occupation. In  this context it is relevant to point out that most of the students who appeared before the Board had been elected on the first day of the occupation to a committee which had charge ‘of various aspects of the organisation of the occupation – for example, propaganda, security, catering and finance. In addition – in the case of the student who was expelled, the Board took into account two further factors, amongst others: that he personally had forcibly prevented the Registrar from reaching his office; and that, in a statement to the Board, he had stated that he recognised no obligation to abide by the rules of the University of which he was a member, that his only aim was to bring about political changes in society at large and that he would not be deterred from further action to this end by “this or any other court or the regulations of this or any other university”.

In determining the penalties in other cases, the Board of Discipline recognised that the level of responsibility shown in one of the cases was far lower than that in any of the others, and that in one other case, the offence had been mitigated by other aspects of the student’s conduct. None of the students,  however, volunteered to the Board any expression of regret nor any undertaking as to their future conduct and it was clear that there was no real recognition of the seriousness of their offence.

In the circumstances the Board of Discipline felt obliged to impose penalties which, whilst not preventing the students from completing their courses and, in due course, obtaining degrees, yet were sufficiently serious to indicate that such conduct could not be tolerated in an academic community.

Tho Board of Appeal

Nine of the ten students charged before the Board of Discipline appealed against the respective findings of, and/or penalties imposed by, the Board.

At the hearings before the Board of Appeal, which were conducted essentially separately, one student was unrepresented and chose to conduct his own case, though accompanied by a friend, three students were represented by a solicitor and the remaining five students by a Professor of Law from another University. The University was rcpresented by the barrister who had presented the cases before the Board of Discipline.

The three students represented by a solicitor appealed against the penalty imposed by the Board of Discipline.  The decisions of the Board of Appeal were to confirm the previous penalties, in two cases, and to reduce the period of suspension by one year in the other case.

The remaining six students each requested a re-hearing of the charge or charges and these requests were granted by the Board In each case witnesses were called both by the University and the appellant. At the conclusion of each case, the Board found the charge or charges proved. In five of these six cases, the penalties imposed by the Board were the same as those which the Board of Discipline had imposed; in the remaining case, in the light of the evidence presented, the Board of Appeal reduced to one year the penalty of two years suspension previously imposed by the Board of Discipline.


One thought on “Recent disciplinary proceedings: a statement from Liverpool University”

  1. Very interesting indeed. Was it ever published? Or does it exist only as an archive draft?

    Of the many points arising, one in particular catches my eye. This statement explains that the University judged the ‘sit-in’ not merely a breach of its domestic regulations, but a breach of the law of trespass. Yet elsewhere, in the Kelly account, we are told that the University decided not to intervene in the occupation nor engage with the occupants.

    From these two accounts, it appears that the University was content to tolerate for whatever purpose an action it held to be illegal. I imagine had PC Plod been summoned, we’d have vacated the building in a flash. So why were the police not called? Was it a matter of principle? Or of jurisdiction? Or, more darkly, of a desire by the University authorities to generate a compelling pretext for exemplary punitive action?

    After forty years, in the light of this archive, the question barely needs asking.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s