Academic Appeals

by scotslawstudent

There is, nominally, an appeals process at my university. I’ve never used it and I’ve never heard of anyone else using it. No matter, this post is not about that kind of appeal.

A Queen’s University Belfast graduate has taken his 2:2 to judicial review, arguing that if he had better supervision he would have left with a 2:1.

Judicial review is a fascinating action, even in its monstrously expensive and slightly anaemic British version, which has implications up and down legal theory, public policy and life in general. Is it right, for example, that a decision to put a child in care can be reviewed by a court instead of childcare experts? Can courts justify intervention into counter terrorism policy? What can a court say about a decision that the people making it couldn’t say?

The classic judicial review is the writ of habeus corpus – you bring the guy into court and you have to adequately explain why you’ve got him. If you’ve not got any good reason to detain him you have to let him go. It’s a beautifully simple example of the rule of law in action – it puts judicial oversight into the process without requiring you to give up executive autonomy. The courts themselves take judicial review extremely seriously, with the extremely high bar before they can step in — generally no less than so irrational that no reasonable body would have made that decision — and that the process rarely turns on what the decision was (something the court is not all that qualified to discuss) but how well it was made. Even after the high standards required for intervention are met generally all that happens is the body in question is sent homeward to think again. There’s no particular block against them turning around, crossing every t and dotting every i, and making pretty much the same decision again.

It seems to me that straight out challenging teaching quality in terms of a judicial review is a bit tenuous. I’d have thought it would be more workable to question their marking quality but even then I’d be waiting for cases where someone who was predicted to get a first gets graded with a fail. In legal terms that’s because it’s irrational that a first class student would be graded so poorly all of a sudden. Saying that if you’d had better teaching you’d have scored better is probably true (just as saying you’d have done better if you’d had a better library) but it’s unclear if there’s a legal remedy unless it’s absolutely obviously not fit for standard, if the university had stocked their library with nothing but Bob The Builder books, for example. On the other hand, arguing that you would have scored marginally better with marginally better teaching is tricky in light of the standards required in judicial review.

The reason that he is using the court, despite it being quite possibly better handled internally at the university, is that they have allegedly refused to review his results because he’s already graduated. Given the vast cost of judicial review actions in Anglo-American jurisdictions I can’t imagine this was his first choice of action.

The case is still in preliminaries with the judge currently taking time to determine if a court is the appropriate forum for it at all.