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R (on the application of Ramey) v University of Oxford (2015)

This case relates to a former Oxford student who applied for judicial review claiming that the Oxford’s policy and procedure on harassment was…

This case relates to a former Oxford student who applied for judicial review claiming that the Oxford’s policy and procedure on harassment was unlawful.

 

Fact

 

In 2011, the claimant complained to the university that she was raped by another student. The claim was passed to the police which decided not to prosecute due to evidential issues. The matter then reverted to the university which, applying its policy and procedure on harassment, decided to take no further action. At the time, Oxford’s harassment policy and procedure mirrored the 1994 Zellick report to the extent that if the police did not pursue prosecution, the university should take no further action except in exceptional circumstances where the authority’s decision not to prosecute depended on special factors and not on the quality of evidence.

 

The Zellick report, published in 1994 was named after the project lead Professor G.J. Zellick, and provided guidance for universities in relation to student disciplinary procedure.

 

Following the university’s decision to take no further action, the claimant brought her complaint to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education which partially upheld her claim and recommended Oxford clarify their policy.

 

In 2014, Oxford produced a new version of its harassment policy; however it did not satisfy the claimant since the new policy still allowed the university to decide not take further action in regards to serious sexual assault.

 

The argument before the court

 

The case was heard before the High Court of London on Friday 8 May 2015. Seeking to challenge the new policy, the claimant argued that as drafted it was in breach of the statutory duty of a public authority under section 149 of the Equality Act 2010. She further asserted that a failure to investigate complaints related to serious crimes triggered the torts of indirect discrimination and harassment and resulted in the breach of both Article 3 and Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) as well as being irrational.

 

Briefly, section 149 of the Equality Act 2010 relates to the public sector equality duty, Article 3 of the ECHR concerns the prohibition of torture and Article 14 of the ECHR regards the prohibition of discrimination.

 

The decision

 

The claimant failed to set aside the university’s policy on harassment. The court held that the new policy was not unlawful per se as the policy expressed that with regard to serious assault or threat of serious assault, the policy may be adequate. It also asserted that in relation to a complaint of harassment against students that may attract criminal sanction, the policy may not be suitable and the matter should be referred to the relevant authorities, for instance, the police.

 

Consequently, the university’s policy does not directly correlate with the Zellick Report but rather allows the university discretion as to whether it should take further action in cases referred to the police but not prosecuted or unsuccessfully prosecuted by the latter. As the policy stands, it is not unlawful.

 

The real scope of the claim was the application of the Zellick Report to a particular matter. In response, the court said such claim could only be decided when considering an actual application of the policy in a specific matter. In consequence, the claimant was not subject to the latest policy and the court accordingly held that she lacked standing to challenge the legality of the policy. The application was refused.