Campaigners have been pushing for change to make the disciplinary procedure "less traumatising" for survivorsFelix Peckham

Proposed reforms to the University’s disciplinary procedure were debated at length in Senate House today, as speakers framed the issue around implications for victims of sexual assault.

The discussion follows the recent open letter published by the CUSU Women’s campaign (WomCam), which included over 800 signatures in support of changing the disciplinary procedure.

Explained What does reforming the disciplinary procedure mean?

Following ongoing pressure from the CUSU Women’s Campaign, the University of Cambridge is considering reforms to its disciplinary procedure regarding sexual assault cases, from a criminal standard of proof to a balance of probabilities.

With balance of probabilities, a case is decided in favour of the party whose statement is most likely to be true, while for a disciplinary procedure that employs beyond reasonable doubt, a case is decided in favour of the complainant only if the evidence provided leaves no room for doubt as to whether the alleged incident occurred.

Professional regulators frequently rely on balance of probabilities to try cases of professional misconduct, and most universities across the UK employ balance of probabilities as their standard of proof for internal disciplinary procedures.

According to Sarah d’Ambrumenil, Head of the Office of Student Conduct, Complaints, and Appeals (OSCCA) at Cambridge, the University of Cambridge is “in the minority” in its employment of beyond reasonable doubt, as “there’s definitely many, many more universities that use the balance of probabilities standard of proof.”

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Shortly before the discussion, students tied hundreds of ribbons to the gates of Senate House to pay tribute to survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence.

The discussion was triggered by WomCam, who encouraged ten academics to write to University Draftsman Ceri Benton in support of holding the meeting. Benton is responsible for ensuring the enactment of changes to the University’s statutes and ordinances.


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More than 20 staff and students spoke on the issue. CUSU women’s officer Lola Olufemi opened the speeches by emphasising that the University’s Breaking the Silence campaign needed to be transformed into a “meaningful procedure”.

Micha Frazer-Carroll, CUSU welfare and rights officer, said that the current system is “retraumatizing”. She pointed out that “fewer than ten students” use the current disciplinary procedure each year, arguing that this is due to the system “playing into a culture of disbelieving survivors.”

Arguments in favour of reforming the disciplinary procedure generally focused on the University being unqualified to act as a court of law and the fact that currently a high proportion of sexual assault cases go unreported, or without conviction. CUSU President Daisy Eyre argued that “the disciplinary procedure should bring justice, not further trauma”. Ruby Kwong, Newnham JCR women’s officer, added that “all students deserve to feel safe and supported during their studies”.

Five individuals spoke against the proposed reforms. Downing college student Andreas Bedorf argued that the current system meant that “you have the right to make a case but you don’t have the right to be believed as soon as you walk through the door”. Clare college student Hugh Wright added that he saw it as “common sense” to punish someone only if there is proof beyond reasonable doubt that they committed the crime.


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At an open meeting earlier this month, the University’s Vice-chancellor Stephen Toope said that he “personally” supports the reforms, though he advised that he is “only a voice in the consultation process”.

The discussion ended with no comment from Toope. A spokesperson for the University of Cambridge told Varsity that the current consultation period will “enable the Review Committee on Discipline to reach the best decision for the University, which would ultimately be subject to further University consultation”. They added, “we cannot pre-judge what that decision will be.”

The University of Cambridge Health and Welfare Committee will discuss proposed revisions to its handling of student cases involving sexual misconduct on Monday 7th May.