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Buachaill, Barrister
Category: Law
Satisfied Customers: 10972
Experience:  Barrister 17 years experience
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I am a student officer at an English University, and I was

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I am a student officer at an English University, and I was falsely accused of harassment by another student officer. The Student Union at my University immediately suspended me and barred me from the student union building as per their procedures while an investigation was carried out, and the procedures specify that anyone connected with the case should keep the matter confidential. Another student officer (not the one that made the accusation, but one that had been informed about the case) then discussed my case with a friend of mine before I'd even been informed of all of the details. I was not in a position to defend myself, as I couldn't discuss the case or even go into the student union building. My suspension ended up lasting for 4 weeks, before the investigation found that I was not guilty of harassment. My reputation has suffered as a result of the confidentiality breach though, and I wondered where I stood as far as clearing my name goes. Can I sue for defamation based on the confidentiality breach?

1. Firstly, you can sue the student union and the student officer who leaked the information for breach of confidence as they are not allowed to leak information in relation to an ongoing investigation. That is a clear breach of the confidentiality obligation which attends such disciplinary proceedings. Secondly, you can sue the person who made the false allegation of sexual harassment for defamation. Essentially, they were the source of the allegations. The repetition of those allegations by other student union members to one another attracts qualified privilege which means you cannot sue unless you can prove malice. This means that internal communications, including to the other student union officer will not be successfully actionable. However, the repetition by the student union officer to your friend is not covered by qualified privilege, so you will be able to sue that other student union officer for defamation as well.


2. Damages will not be substantial against the student union and the student union rep. they will be moderate for breach of confidence. However, you will get a good award of damages against the person who made the false allegation. I would advise you to see a solicitor and hire a barrister to issue legal proceedings. However, you should first write to each of the parties, via a solicitors letter and seek compensation.

JACUSTOMER-ss5guk28- :

Hi, thanks for the reply. It's not a sexual harassment accusation, just ("just!") harassment and/or bullying. I'm not so concerned about the amount of financial damages, just the acknowledgement that the accusation was false, in order to repair my reputation. How difficult is it to get a solicitors letter drawn up? I'm guessing it's going to cost a bit to do.

3. Dear *****, The other points which arises is that the Students Union did not deal with the matter expeditiously. Whilst there is no time limit within which cases have to be dealt with, the four week time period during which you were excluded from the SU building was over long. Accordingly, you should include a claim for breach of your procedural rights under Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights which is incorporated into English law by the Human Rights Act. Essentially, the proceedings should have been expedited.
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4. A solicitor will write a letter for £50. You should make clear you are a student and have limited means even if you might be getting money from the SU officer position. However, be aware that once you look for compensation, there will have to be someone who will come up with the money. So to avoid the difficulty that no one will take responsibility for authorising the payment out of money so no settlement ever occurs, you need to do some political skills with your fellow SU officers so you do get an apology. So a solicitor's letter seeking an apology should be your first step. You can ratchet up things later if you are not happy with the response.
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Customer: replied 3 years ago.

OK, thanks for the advice. Very helpful.

You are welcome, John.