Student court claim against university: no risk of bias where judge has attended the defendant university

A court has determined that, where a civil court claim is brought by an individual against his or her former university, there is no apparent bias in a judge who had attended the same university hearing the case.

The question of whether the judge should recuse himself arose as a preliminary issue in the defendant university’s application for strike out or summary judgment in the case of Siddiqui v Oxford University Chancellor, Masters & Scholars.

The claimant is a former student of the university who was awarded an upper second class degree in 2000 and who has brought a claim against the university for damages for alleged negligent teaching.

After the case had been assigned to a judge, it was discovered that the judge had attended a college of the defendant university 30 years ago; he had also acted for the university in the past as junior counsel and had until recently been in chambers with the university’s representative in the instant application. Mr Siddiqui therefore applied for the judge to recuse himself on the grounds that a fair-minded observer would conclude that there was a risk of bias.

The Court held that there was no risk of bias. The judge had attended the university a long time ago and had in any event attended a different college and studied a different subject to the claimant. Whilst he had acted for the university in the mid-1990s, he had been led by leading counsel in that case, had been in a different chambers from the university’s representative at that time and the subject matter of the case had been unrelated to the issues raised by the claimant in this case. It was also noted that it was commonplace for a barrister to appear before a judge with whom he had been in chambers. The claimant’s application was therefore dismissed.

 

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