A disciplinary hearing set up by the University of Sussex to rule on four students previously suspended for on-campus protest activities has collapsed amidst claims that their chairman was biased.
Professor Michael Davies, the deputy vice-chancellor of the university, stepped down from the panel on Friday after representations from the students’ legal representatives, who claimed that he could not be seen as impartial.
Lawyers for the students, including famed human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson, had argued that Prof Davies was seen to be biased, as he had already criticised the students’ protest activities on Radio Sussex.
Mr Robertson, who was representing three of the students pro-bono, said that he had taken the case because a disciplinary action “would set a very bad precedent for universities up and down the country”.
The four students were regular activists at the university, taking part in a series of peaceful occupations in various locations at the university’s campus in Falmer, in protest at what they called “the marketization of higher education” and the outsourcing of various services. They were suspended for their activities in early December, though the suspension was overturned shortly after.
A fifth has had his hearing suspended while the police investigate allegations against him.
Michael Segalov, one of the students involved, said: “The presence of our legal team today just shows how much is at stake in this. I believe our rights to freedom of speech and assembly are being attacked, as do all of our supporters.”
A spokesperson for the university insisted that the disciplinary panel has been “set up and conducted in accordance with University of Sussex regulations”.
They said: “We believe that Professor Davies has acted properly and professionally throughout this process. The panel will be reconvened with a new chair in due course. The case in relation to the students still needs to be heard.”