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Message from Morag Ross QC (24/01/2022): Preliminary work

In a statement issued on 29 October 2021 the Principal announced a review of the University’s approach to addressing gender-based violence and, more specifically, to a “thorough investigation and review of the University’s current staff and student procedures and support arrangements in relation to gender-based violence”.  I am appointed to conduct that review.

In order to make progress with the investigation and review exercise it is necessary to define its scope and to set out a structure for its conduct.

I have already been provided with a substantial amount of written material, much of it relating to existing policies and procedures as well as information about relevant cases.  It has been made clear to me that I will be provided with any further information that is relevant and which I think may be necessary or helpful as I seek to understand the University’s approach.  That is very welcome.

In the course of December and in early January I have held meetings with a number of people in positions of responsibility within the University.  These preliminary discussions have been wide-ranging and helpful and have allowed me to understand the nature of the issues and to begin to form a view as to how this exercise might best be conducted. 

A number of points have emerged.  This is not an exhaustive list but it seems to me that the following are particularly important.

  • Gender-based violence cannot be considered on its own. It is important to look at it within a wider context, which encompasses other forms of bullying and harassment.  More generally, organisational culture, expectations about behaviour and the wider social environment have to be considered.
  • In terms of appropriate regulation, the area likely to give rise to the most difficult issues covers complaints involving the interactions between students and members of staff.
  • Whilst the focus is on the University’s own processes, these do not always operate entirely separately from processes elsewhere. Difficult issues may arise, for example, where conduct is also the subject of police investigation or criminal proceedings.
  • Education and training in relation to gender-based violence and consent issues should be considered.
  • In relation to the way in which this exercise is carried out, confidentiality is likely to be very important for at least some people.

Morag Ross QC