Fitness to Practice Appeals – University Appeals

Student appeals against Fitness to practice decisions

Students who may be pursuing a professional qualification sometimes are accused of acting in a manner that is said to compromise their ability to practice in their chosen profession. They may acccordingly be said to be “unfit to practice”, and generally Universities will always permit a student to appeal against these findings. These proceedings often occur in medical degree courses or perhaps other degrees such as dentisty or law.

In medical cases for example a University might apply the guidance issued by the general medical council. Usually procedures involve first investigating the matter and calling the student to a fitness to practice investigatory meeting. If a decision is made that there is a case to answer, a student will usually be called to appear before a fitness to practice panel.

Fitness to practice Panels

The procedure adopted by fitness to practice panels often vary between different Universities. Sometimes a student will be permitted legal representation and on other occasions it is denied. However given the issues at stake, it is often felt that every student should be entitled to receive legal advice and assistance from a specialist higher education lawyer with expertise in regulatory matters.

The panel hearings can be rather formal, and a University will usually rely on witness evidence from individuals who might appear before the panel and give live evidence. A student might be permitted a chance to cross examine the witness and challenge the testimony given. This usually involves a degree of expertise and it is considered that a person should be permitted every chance to take legal advice from a higher education lawyer. Procedures adopted by FTP panels should comply with the University regulations and it is important to familiarise oneself of this important procedure. For example, if there is a departure from the rules, a right of appeal might exist.

Fitness to Practice Panel Decisions

Usually these decisions will be issued within a few days from the hearing. Case law has established that a University should give adequate reasons although the level of detail required might not be the level one would expect a court or regulatory body to provide. At present this issue is a point which will be decided in a case currently before the court of appeal in the matter of T -v- The Office of the Independent Adjudicator and the University of Leicester. This particular case has recently made world news and at the date of writing is pending before the court of appeal. A link to the judgment under appeal is below:

Thilakwardhania Appeal

This particular case turns on the question as to the degree of detail required within the reasons given by a panel when issuing it decision. Thus the law is likely to develop in this area.

Fitness to practice appeals – University appeals

If a student challenges a finding reached that he or she is unfit to practice, a University will generally afford a right of appeal. As a general rule rights of appeal usually exist where;-

A. A student might allege procedural irregularity or unfairness and or
B That new and compelling evidence exists which was not reasonably capable of advancing before the panel at the time, and that there was good reason for failing to advance this evidence at the time.

A lawyer specialising in higher education law will also contend that evidence of legal breach of duty is also evidence of procedural irregularity and thus falls within the criteria for appeals.

At this vital stage a student may be afforded legal representation although admittedly some Universities do not permit representation before the panel by an education lawyer. This is really a moot point as case law establishes that when a career may be at stake a student should always be afforded the right to representation. However this usually applies where the decision by the panel is a final one, which is incapable of appeal elsewhere.

If the decision is unfavourable , a student will generally be given the reasons in writing along with a completion of procedures letter informing them of a right of complaint to the student complaints adjudicator the OIA ( The Office of the Independent Adjudicator ).

Further details on the OIA procedure is available on our web site by clicking the relevant link below or by clicking the index which appears on this page.

The Office of the Independent Adjudicator ( The OIA )

Has a student got a right to proceed to the court?

The OIA will usually not get involved if a student seeks to pursue a case before the courts. Generally every University is in a contract with a student. The contract contains conditions such as the term that it will comply with its rules and implied terms to act reasonably and fairly.

Why use a higher education specialist lawyer?

Picking which solicitor to use in such an important decision is very important. You will want a solicitor with a track record in the subject, and who has appeared in many important cases. Michael Charles is without doubt one of the most senior solicitors in the country, and few have more experience. He successfully argued the leading case that decided the parameters of academic judgment immunity in a University case. This has become one of the leading authorities in judicial review against the OIA. Details of the judgment can be found in the link below
The Gopikrishna Case

Plainly Sinclairslaw meets the criteria that any student searching for a solicitor should apply. Remember Higher Education and University law is a highly specialist subject. You need a firm with a track record. Sinclairslaw has years of experience and are involved in cutting edge decisions in this important area of the law.

If you need help or guidance contact us today.

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