( Article by Professor Hu Chi Ku Chi )
No matter where you look , disciplinary processes and decisions are often flawed giving rise to well founded claims that those in the dock have been cheated of justice.
Even universities , where disciplinary panels are made up of extremely well qualified staff with access to the resources and expertise located in their law faculties , operate like amateurs making one mistake after another.
In a recent article in the " I " newspaper , Dr Daniel Sokol , a leading barrister in this field of law , seemed appalled at the lamentable performance of these high powered disciplinary panels. On many occasions he felt the process was a disgrace , and therefore much of his criticism was directed at the chairmen involved.
The author then went on to say that in some cases the length of the initial hearing was no more than 15 minutes , even though expulsion was clearly on the cards. When certain things needed to be disclosed they were not. So when he , on behalf of the student , reminded the chair that a particular report should have been disclosed earlier to allow time to review it , the chair's response was " We don't do that , and we find that the report just confuses students ".
This notion that we did what we felt was right smacks of gross naivety , vanity and self-delusion. Not only should appeal panels religiously follow their own rules and regulations to the letter , but they also need to recognise and adhere to the basic rules of natural justice. Yet panels choose to give students , say accused of plagiarism , a really hard time. This is fine , as long as the questions are fair. Moreover , panels should not automatically greet evidence produced by the students with suspicion , whilst at the same time taking testimony of the academic staff making the complaint at face value as infallible evidence . Indeed , there had been instances of students being denied the opportunity to call key witnesses to give evidence on their behalf. Once when acting as counsel he pointed out to the panel a query regarding evidence given against the student by an absent witness , since he/she was unable to confirm their evidence , or have it challenged by others. And what was the chairman's response ? " Oh , it wouldn't make any difference anyway ". This reply sent out a clear message that guilty verdicts had already been decided upon.
What the author knows to be true is that any person brought up before a disciplinary body has the fundamental right to expect a reasonable standard of fairness , throughout the whole process. This could only be possible if the panelists were properly trained , resourced , and supported by those in a position to offer sound legal advice and guidance. This quasi-judicial task is not one which should be carried out by ill-trained panelists with little understanding of what constitutes a " fair " hearing . No one deserves a panel who simply reach decisions on the basis that they feel what they're doing is right . Surely , the process needs to be right in order to arrive at a fair and correct outcome ? A tainted process raises too many questions about the reliability, merit and value of the outcome. No one deserves to be cheated of justice.