Northern Ireland

Queen's University, Belfast: Court rejects sex crime student's challenge over suspension

A court in Belfast has rejected a student's bid for a judicial review of a university's decision to suspend him.

The student, known as CS, was suspended by Queen's University in Belfast after he was convicted of making child sexual abuse images.

He then had an appeal rejected by a university review appeals panel.

His application for a judicial review of the decisions by the two panels has now been refused by a high court judge.

Likelihood

The 21-year-old was temporarily withdrawn from his chemical engineering course in October 2014 after pleading guilty to making and possessing indecent photographs of children.

He was given a five-year sexual offences prevention order (SOPO) by Belfast Crown Court.

The pre-sentence report said he was "addicted to pornographic images of children" and was assessed as being at a medium likelihood of reoffending.

Queen's found out about his conviction through press reports and considered him to have breached its regulations, requiring him to notify it when he was convicted.

Exhausted

The suspension imposed by the review panel stated he had the option to re-apply to continue his studies when his SOPO had expired in September 2019, but had no guarantee of being admitted back to the university.

The review appeals panel then found no reason to overturn that decision and did not uphold the appeal.

CS was told that he had exhausted the university's internal procedures but was entitled to petition the board of visitors. It considers student appeals and complaints and its members include two judges.

He chose instead to apply for a judicial review of the panels' hearings and decisions.

Premature

He claimed the hearings infringed his rights under article six of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), as they were not open to the public, he was not legally represented and had no access to legal aid.

He also claimed that the suspension with no guaranteed right to return breached article two of Protocol No 1 of the ECHR, which provides a right to education.

Queen's claimed he had chosen not to take up his right to appeal to the board of visitors, and the process was therefore incomplete and his application for judicial review was premature.

The applicant argued that a hearing before the board was not sufficient to protect his rights.

Baseless

The judge said it would be surprising if the applicant genuinely wanted a public hearing as he had sought to have proceedings anonymised due to the "significant mental health risks for him that would attend any personal publicity".

He added that if he did want a public hearing, he could request that.

On the matter of legal aid, he said the right to this is not critical to whether the proceedings before the board comply with article six.

The judge then said the suggestion that the board would act unlawfully and in a way incompatible with the applicant's human rights is "baseless and without merit".

He declined to grant the judicial review and concluded that CS must first go through a hearing before the board.