Cambridge students demand change of approach to sexual misconduct cases

More than 800 students call for civil standard of proof to be applied in disciplinary cases

The University of Cambridge is considering lowering the standard of proof in disciplinary cases under pressure from students after it admitted it has a significant problem with sexual misconduct.

More than 800 students wrote an open letter to the institution’s vice-chancellor demanding the change in policy, saying the criminal standard currently required, which calls for allegations to be proven beyond reasonable doubt, was putting some people off coming forward.

Instead, disciplinary proceedings should adopt the civil standard, demanding only that allegations be proven on the balance of probability, the students said. Doing so would “give survivors and victims of sexual assault more confidence” to report wrongdoing.

The students added that, under the current system, the university is “implying that there is unlikely to be consequences for perpetrators in disciplinary cases pertaining to sexual misconduct, unless the survivor goes to the police”.

They said the criminal standard of proof places “undue burden on someone who has experienced a traumatic event”, adding that it “actively discourages survivors and victims of sexual harassment, rape and assault from engaging with the disciplinary procedure.”

The letter to Cambridge’s vice-chancellor Stephen Toope was written by the Cambridge University Students’ Union Women’s Campaign. It claimed Cambridge was the only UK university to require the criminal standard in disciplinary cases and came to light after Cambridge launched a consultation proposing the burden of proof be lowered.

“The University of Cambridge is not a criminal court and it should not behave as such. The penalties that may be inflicted on a student by the university have no effect on their criminal record or their standing in the eyes of the law,” said the students’ letter.

In February, the institution admitted it has “a significant problem” with sexual misconduct after it received nearly 180 complaints in nine months under its newly launched anonymous reporting system.

A document released as part of the university’s consultation process acknowledged receipt of the letter.

It said: “The review committee on student discipline are of the view that if the student body wants the university to use the balance of probability as the standard of proof when considering allegations of student misconduct then this should be accepted by the university community. However, the committee noted that it is unclear whether this is the view of the student body.”

On Wednesday, the head of the university’s office for student conduct, complaints and appeals, Sarah D’Ambrumenil, said: “The university is currently in a period of consultation about the disciplinary procedure – the discussion is an ideal opportunity for all members of the university to bring forward their views about the standard of proof.

“This will enable the review committee on discipline to reach the best decision for the university, which would ultimately be subject to further university consultation, but we cannot pre-judge what that decision will be.”


Kevin Rawlinson

The GuardianTramp

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