The dreadful toll of campus injustice
Young doctor compensated for his ordeal
A few years ago, an engaging. young, overseas-trained doctor arrived in one of our biggest cities to do post-graduate research. He was a popular and confident student, soon appointed to leadership roles at the university college where he was staying, thrilled to be part of its student community.
Look at the photograph of him taken a year later, after his hair started to fall out (alopecia) through stress after monstrous treatment from a university following an unfounded, malicious sexual assault allegation. Two years later, a jury took 20 minutes to dismiss the case after a two-week trial. After the criminal trial the court took the unusual step of awarding costs against the Crown, with the judge stating a proper investigation would have revealed that the complainant was “very substantially lacking credit” and the case should not have been commenced.
But there was never any proper investigation. As is true in the kangaroo courts operating at universities across Australia, this young man was treated abominably by this tertiary institution. After the complaint was made, he was told he had two hours to leave the college, and was not allowed to discuss with anyone why he was being evicted. Relevant witnesses were never interviewed, he had no chance to present a proper response to the allegations. He was dumped far from his former college in an untidy, dirty room, complete with bars on every window, alone, and desperate. And he was publicly shamed with the accuser spreading lies about what had happened.
The coordinators of his post-grad program were told, before he was even charged, that he could not take part in clinical work or research because he was under investigation. His education plans were derailed, his life put on hold. He has spent the last few years working as a waiter, couch surfing with friends or living in a hostel, having spent his savings, with help from his family, defending his criminal case. Since he contacted me in late 2020, we have been doing our best to support him, including using immigration lawyers to keep him in the country whilst pursuing action against the university.
Late last year our excellent campus justice team achieved a confidential settlement with the university. Our doctor is now studying, and seeking medical registration to practice in Australia. Meanwhile universities across the country continue to believe the victim irrespective of the strengths of any defence which could be raised by the accused. The presumption of innocence as a cornerstone of our system of justice is ignored. Peremptory findings of guilt are made without due process. In Australia each year dozens of accused young men are shafted by tertiary institutions to appease the feminist lynch mob.
A case with a difference
What’s unusual about our young doctor’s story is he didn’t fall victim to an aggrieved young woman. He is openly gay and his accuser was male. But the ‘believe-the-victim’ rules applied just the same, even though the accuser was a known trouble-maker, having attracted unfavourable attention for making aggressive comments to women in the college.
There’s a worrying parallel to the Melbourne story I published early this year in that our doctor, like Chris from Melbourne, had a supervisory role in the college, requiring him to look after students. It says a lot about the vulnerability of men in this circumstance who are required to impose rules that easily create resentment amongst students, setting themselves up for vengeful allegations.
Our doctor was asked by a director of the college to speak to the accuser about a particular incident of being aggressive towards a female student and to urge him to seek counselling. He did that and the accuser reacted badly, accusing him of betraying their friendship. But then, a few days later the accuser was all over the doctor, openly flirting with him in public, inviting himself to his room – in front of witnesses. They’d just started consensually kissing when the accuser suddenly jumped up and left the room, for no apparent reason. It seems likely this was all a set-up, a clumsy form of entrapment as payback for the doctor’s role in reprimanding him for his bad behaviour.
Our doctor then discovered the accuser was claiming he had been sexually assaulted by him. The doctor made a report to the student liaison officer, explaining it was a false accusation, listing witnesses who could confirm the proceeding events that evening. This evidence was not pursued.
Within a week the doctor learnt an official sexual assault complaint had been made alleging digital anal penetration without consent had occurred during the encounter in his room. Ultimately the jury found our doctor not guilty of this charge, with a subsequent Court finding the allegation couldn’t be substantiated due to the complainant’s lack of credibility and the blatantly sexually flirtatious behaviour by the complainant who had changed his complaint and lied to the police multiple times with many inconsistencies in his story; and that he had tried to suppress evidence and influence witnesses.
Vital evidence supporting the accused had been withheld by numerous officials at the university during their contact with the police and it required subpoenas and orders from the judge to force it to release this information during the trial.
Even after the jury dismissed the case and the court made its clear ruling, the university kept open the option of conducting their own misconduct investigation. It took around eight months for the institution to retreat from that path – more stress for our much-wronged doctor, more work for our lawyers.
Tackling the big picture
Whilst we celebrate this settlement over a university, it is so frustrating that the legal grounds came down to trying to prove these officials had slipped up in minor areas of administrative law - rather than addressing the use of these draconian regulations to adjudicate sexual assault.
There must be more we can do to tackle the broader issue of the right of our universities to usurp criminal law using their current unfair, anti-male regulatory mechanisms. Long term readers of my blog will remember my excitement back in November 2019, when Justice Ann Lyons made a judgement in a pivotal case involving a University of Queensland medical student who was accused of sexual assault by another student.
Wendy Mulcahy, the lawyer for the accused student, took the matter to the Queensland Supreme Court arguing that UQ did not have the jurisdiction to adjudicate such matters. Justice Lyons concluded universities are only entitled to make decisions in sexual assault cases which have been proved in criminal court. You can read the judgement here.
The University of Queensland then appealed that decision and in October 2020 the Court of Appeal in Queensland overruled Lyon’s reasoning that it is not appropriate for universities to deal with such criminal matters. The appeal judges concluded that it’s fine for universities to investigate and make decisions about sexual assault and impose their own sanctions on these students, as I discussed here.
Whilst acknowledging procedural fairness was an issue in the UQ case, Justice McMurdo made this comment: “I am unable to accept that in no such case could a hearing of an allegation of this kind be conducted with procedural fairness to the student.”
The learned Justice acknowledged that the UQ procedures are grossly unfair to accused students – a situation which applies in universities across Australia. But since it is just possible that a university could do a great job usurping criminal justice, he concluded we should just let this issue slide by.
Now I know I have many lawyers reading this, and many of you have good contacts in the law. I’m putting the word out that this issue needs urgent attention. There must be other legal avenues to address this broader issue of the legality of universities making decisions about these significant criminal matters using secretive committees with no public oversight, using no proper investigations, no access to a lawyer nor normal legal protections for the accused, and employing the lowest possible standard of proof - the balance of probabilities.
As long ago as 1938 in Briginshaw v Briginshaw the High Court of Australia established the proper standard of proof in civil matters when an accused’s reputation, education and career may be imperiled by an allegation if found true. The words of Sir Own Dixon continue to ring true:
“ …reasonable satisfaction is not a state of mind that is attained or established independently of the nature and consequence of the fact or facts to be proved. The seriousness of the allegation made, the inherent unlikelihood of an occurrence of a given description, or the gravity of the consequences flowing from a particular finding are considerations which must affect the answer to the question whether the issue has been proved to the reasonable satisfaction of the tribunal. In such matters “reasonable satisfaction” should not be produced by inexact proofs, indefinite testimony, or indirect inferences.”
Universities are simply unable to conduct investigations in a manner which provides the required basic fairness and proper attention to due process. As Justice Ann Lyons commented: “It would indeed be a startling result if a committee comprised of academics and students who are not required to have any legal training could decide allegations of a most serious kind without any of the protections of the criminal law.”
At the moment we’re also exploring anti-discrimination cases before the Human Rights Commission making the case that it is young men who are receiving this unfair treatment. But we need more brilliant legal minds to plan future strategies. We can’t just sit back and allow this system to keep destroying young men.
There must also be someone in the media willing to expose the tragic stories of what is happening to young men on our campuses. Surely the whole media industry is not captured by the feminist mafia, or too gutless to take on this important issue. I’m happy to put journalists in touch with the students willing to talk about what happened.
Perhaps it’s worth planning some more talks at universities to draw public attention to the issue – I’m happy to speak if anyone is brave enough to invite me, either to student groups, staff or alumni. This issue is not going away and neither am I.