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Disciplinary Investigation

Stages of Disciplinary


Investigation
Investigation Appeal
Hearing
Hearing Appeal

This article is for Disciplinary Investigations and is intended as a helpful guide that should be read alongside Student Disciplinary Regulations, for related processes see Disciplinary Hearing, Disciplinary Investigation Appeal, Disciplinary Hearing Appeal, Fitness to Practise, Suspension or Mediation

Overview

Disciplinary proceedings may be taken where a student is suspected of not abiding the rules and regulations of the university including those relating to conduct and discipline. 
The University has 3 methods by which they can deal with any suspected issues including;

  • Informal Action- In the case of minor issues
    • Dealt with by individual members of staff who may resolve the matter on an informal basis of advice and direction concerning acceptable behaviour or conduct.
    • This can include advice that any repetition or escalation of the behaviour in question could lead to formal disciplinary proceedings.
    • A record will be made by the member of staff and kept by the Faculty to note that the counselling has taken place.
  • Disciplinary Investigation- in the case of serious issues
    • Dealt with by a Disciplinary Officer who will investigation and provide you with their findings
  • Disciplinary Hearings – in cases of gross misconduct
    • With a Disciplinary Panel, who review cases of gross misconduct

Students on professional course
If you are on a course where you are subject to professional body regulations, there may be fitness to practice proceedings taken against you either alongside or instead of a disciplinary.

Police investigations and Court Action
Please note, if criminal proceedings have been taken against you, or where an alleged conduct would constitute a criminal offense, the university have the right to defer action pending any police investigation or court action. The University reserves the right to report any matters to the police if deemed necessary. The University will take into consideration the views of any victim before doing so, but will not be bound by these views.

Suspensions
As a precaution, depending on the nature of the allegations, you may be suspended during the investigation. You should adhere to any guidance given regarding suspensions during this time. 

Don’t panic if you are informed an investigation is taking place.
It is important to remember that until the conclusion of the process, the university is looking into an allegation or a concern and they should ensure they take on board the points you raise in response before reaching a conclusion. Wherever an allegation or concern has been raised, it is right that it is looked into appropriately and this can lead to instances where the allegation or concern is dismissed and/or not found. 

As a precaution, depending on the nature of the allegations, you may be suspended during the investigation. You should adhere to any guidance given regarding suspensions during this time. 

If you are concerned that a malicious allegation has been raised against you and/or if feel you are dealing with harassment, then you should speak with an advisor and highlight those concerns with the Disciplinary Officer.

You will be given information beforehand.
When you are invited to meet with the Disciplinary Officer you will be contacted in writing and be informed of any evidence being presented against you. If may not have the clearest picture until you are provided with the evidence- at any stage you can speak with an advisor.

Potential allegations or concerns raised?
The University defines what they consider to be misconduct which may lead to disciplinary proceedings being taken, broadly these are any actions that cause risk, distress or fear to others, or hinder the University's proper operation or damage its reputation.

Such actions include;

  • Disruption of academic, administrative, sporting, social or other activities of the University
  • Sexual, homophobic, racial, physical or other harassment, or behaviour which causes 
    • fear or distress to others; 
    • threatening, abusive, disorderly or unreasonable behaviour; 
    • behaviour which contravenes the University's principles of dignity and respect or 
    • is a form of harassment or bullying, 
    • or which creates a hostile environment for another, including via the use of social media.
  • Behaviour which interferes with freedom of speech, thought, action or enquiry of any other student or member of staff or lawful visitor to the University;
  • Fraud, deceit, deception, dishonesty including; 
    • misappropriation of University funds or assets, 
    • misuse or falsification of any records or documents held by the University, its staff, students or visitors, including falsification of qualifications or other requirements for admission to the University, or of attendance monitoring of any student by the University, or 
    • any improper access to, transmission, use, or disclosure of computerised or other data held by the University or accessible though University equipment or networks;
  • Conduct which constitutes a criminal offence, including the use or supply of illegal drugs, where that conduct –took
    • place on or in the vicinity of University premises, or 
    • affected or concerned other members of the University, or 
    • damages or threatens the reputation of the University, or 
    • is an offence of dishonesty, where a student holds an office of responsibility within the University;
  • Damage to, or wrongful treatment of, the property or equipment of the University or any of its staff, students or visitors, 
    • or any action likely to cause injury to any person or impairing the health and safety of the premises or its occupants, or contravening University policies on Health Safety and the Environment;
  • Action or omission which could cause loss, damage or injury or put others at risk.
  • Failure to disclose name and/or student ID to an employee of the University when it is reasonable to require such information, 
    • or impersonation of another student/using their identity at any time or requesting/facilitating someone else to impersonate a student.
  • Offering or giving money, gifts or other incentives to any employee of the University with the intention of inducing that employee to perform her/his job improperly or to reward her/him for doing so.
  • Failure to declare any criminal convictions acquired while at University.
  • A breach of any other University Rules, Regulations, Codes of Conduct or Procedures, or any failure to comply with any ruling or instruction made as a result of disciplinary proceedings, whether formal or informal, or misconduct committed when the student is already in receipt of an active formal reprimand.

Review evidence presented against you 
Prior to meeting with the Disciplinary Officer, you should be provided with any evidence being presented against you. You should review this evidence, and prepare responses and/or counter evidence to points raised against you. 

Any witness statements made in connection with the disciplinary investigation will be shared with you, as will the identity of those making those statements. Only in an exceptional case where there is clear risk of harm would the university vary this position.

Remember that the purpose of the meeting is to investigate and so the information and evidence you have so far received may not be full picture; you will need to present your points and evidence. 

You should try to consider the evidence as raised in good faith unless you have strong reason to suspect it has been raised maliciously against you. This means assuming that it is more likely the allegations or concerns come from a well-meaning or genuine place, for example;

  • You may have been misheard or misunderstood by someone else who was genuinely concerned
  • You may not have realised how a comment or action was taken by another
  • Others might see an issue with your actions/behaviour that you do not recognise as an issue
  • You may have been misidentified by those who raised concerns

Drafting your response 
Your response can be provided in writing to the Disciplinary Officer, or may be your own notes for use in the meeting. We recommend you write down your responses and thoughts prior to a meeting so you can be confident that you have raised everything you wish to do so before the conclusion of the investigation. 

You should try to anticipate possible questions the Disciplinary Officer might have when considering your response. An advisor from Sunderland Students’ Union is well placed to help you consider possible questions and your response in advance of the meeting. They can discuss with you your response and the evidence you are planning to provide, as well as how you might best frame your response so it is as strong as possible.

The Advisor can also help you review the evidence raised against you and help you better understand the nature of the allegations if any of it is unclear.

Mitigation 
If you believe circumstances which are exceptional, outside your control, and that have prevented you conducting yourself in an appropriate manner, then you should consider raising this in your response or at the meeting with the Disciplinary officer. 

However you should note that highlighting such circumstances does not dissolve you of responsibility if you have not conducted yourself in an appropriate manner, rather this is an opportunity for you and the university to consider if there any support you might need. 

Disclosure or concerns of mental health issues, connected to the allegations, will result in the Disciplinary Officer consulting the University student services team in Student and Learning Support Service during the process. This is to make sure you are properly support. 

Substance misuse, including alcohol and drugs is not mitigation and can, in some circumstances, be considered an aggravating factor.  

Reasonable adjustments 
Inform the Disciplinary officer in advance of the meeting if you have any reasonable adjustments due to disability or ill health. 

You may have prepared very well for the meeting in advance but attending formal meetings such as this can be daunting. Here are some top tips for attending formal meetings.

Attend with someone
You have the right to be accompanied to any meeting by another member of the University community and we recommend you do. Having someone there, who supports you, can really help you feel more confident and supported during meetings. 

We recommend you attend with a students’ union advisor as they can provide guidance on the process if at any point you are confused or unsure. But you can attend with other students or members of the university community including your course rep. 

You are expected to respond to the allegations; anyone attending with you are there to support you and not to act on your behalf. 

Responding to questions
Take your time in answering questions put to you; if you need to take a deep breath or a sip of water. It is better you are able to calmly and cohesively answer rather than rushing to respond. 

At any point, if attending with a students’ union advisor, you can consult with them about your response or to ask for clarity. 

Try not to act in an aggressive or confrontational way if you are facing challenging questions. Sometimes difficult questions are necessary to get to the bottom of an allegation, and as these questions are directed at you it can at times feel personal (even if it is not). However, if attending with a students’ union advisor, they will highlight with you if they believe the Disciplinary officer if acting outside of regulations or in a manner which is unacceptable. 

Remain at all times, polite and professional- this does not stop you being firm or resolved in your responses. 

Timescales
You will receive a response from Disciplinary Officer within 5 working days of a decision being made. The response will include a summary finding and a decision on penalty if the finding upholds the allegation.

Possible Outcomes
If an allegation is upheld, the Disciplinary Officer can chose one or more of the following possible penalties/outcomes;

  1. To dismiss the case;
  2. To require you apologise, either verbally or in writing;
  3. To offer you advice as to future behaviour;
  4. To issue an you informal warning (this is not held on your record)
  5. To issue you a formal reprimand, to be held on your record for a limited period of time, and which will be taken into account in any future disciplinary cases during that time;
  6. To issue a permanent formal reprimand, to be held on your record for the duration of your study, and which will be taken into account in any future disciplinary cases;
  7. To require you to sign a good conduct agreement;
  8. To make an order for you to pay restitution and/or compensation for damage or loss, this includes set fines where those are established and communicated to students in advance (for example, accommodation fines);
  9. To order the withdrawal of any benefit, facility or privilege; for such period as the Disciplinary Officer may consider appropriate, including notice to quit University accommodation;
  10. To impose a requirement for you to attend a relevant student support service. Failure to comply with any such requirement is itself a disciplinary offence;
  11. To make any reasonable requirement that you should carry out an activity which contributes to the University community, particularly where that activity relates to the offence (for example, awareness raising);
  12. Impose reasonable restrictions on your communication with named students or members of staff, both verbally or via written or electronic or other means;
  13. To make a report to any relevant professional or statutory body (which may in some instances be mandatory);
  14. To refer your case to other procedures, for example the University’s fitness to practice procedure or the academic misconduct procedure. 
  15. In instances of gross misconduct, refer your case on to a disciplinary hearing

Disclosure of outcomes 
The University may disclose the outcome of your disciplinary with any students affected by the outcome, most notably any victim of misconduct. 

The University reserves the right to refer to disciplinary findings when requested to provide a reference, but would only do so in cases which resulted in expulsion or punitive suspension (following a disciplinary hearing), or exceptionally where failure to include mention in a reference would create a material risk in the context of the employment (for example, if it involved working with children). 

Disclosure may occur to process any outcome of a disciplinary case; for example, informing the Student Loan Company or Home Office UK Visa and Immigration service of a case of expulsion following a disciplinary hearing.

If you remain dissatisfied with the summary findings and outcome from the Disciplinary Officer you may wish to appeal the investigation within 5 working days of when you were notified of the outcome.

However if the outcome was that the matter be referred to a disciplinary hearing then this cannot be appealed; as the Disciplinary Hearing has its own appeal stage. 

If you are concerned that a malicious allegation has been raised against you and/or if feel you are dealing with harassment, then you should speak with an advisor and highlight those concerns with the Disciplinary Officer as early as possible and ideally not at the end of the process unless new evidence has come to light.

Page last reviewed: 01/03/2019
Next review due: 31/08/2020