Angus Satow and Daisy Eyre have campaigned on a number of activist causesBBC

The push to reform the University of Cambridge’s disciplinary procedure for sexual assault has been thrown into the national spotlight, with activists appearing on the BBC and the campaign hitting the front page of The Times, as well as articles in The Daily Telegraph and The Guardian.

CUSU President Daisy Eyre appeared on the Victoria Derbyshire television programme this morning alongside Angus Satow, a 2018 NUS delegate. Both Eyre and Satow have signed an open letter calling for the University to reform the standard of proof for student disciplinary cases from proof ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ to a reliance on a ‘balance of probabilities’.

Eyre told the show’s host that Cambridge’s disciplinary procedure regarding sexual misconduct is “lagging behind the rest of the UK universities”, noting that the University of Cambridge is in the minority in its use of criminal burden of proof for student disciplinary cases.

Explained What are the arguments used for and against the change to 'balance of probabilities'?

Those in favour of the University switching to 'balance of probabilities' argue that the University is unqualified to act as a court of law. They also point out that currently a high proportion of sexual assault cases go unreported, or without conviction. As sexual violence often takes place in isolated places and leaves little tangible evidence, the chance of an allegation being upheld is slim when the standard of proof requires proof 'beyond reasonable doubt'. Critics of proof 'beyond reasonable doubt' for University disciplinary procedure cases argue that victims of sexual misconduct may be less willing to come forward if allegations are rarely upheld. The vast majority of UK universities, including Oxford, use balance of probabilities.

In opposition, those in favour of retaining 'beyond reasonable doubt' argue that it minimises the chance of an allegation against a student being wrongfully upheld. In using 'balance of probabilities' in cases of harassment, the University would be deciding on matters that could still be prosecuted in a court of law. If university proceedings are then used in a criminal investigation, both the defence case and the prosecution case could be jeopardised.

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When asked about instances where cases came down to the word of the accuser against the accused, Eyre said “there’s no evidence-based proof that things won’t be fair”, while Satow added: “‘Balance of probability’ doesn’t mean we’re convicting people at whim, it means that there’s sizable evidence that this has happened.” Satow also emphasised the importance of the University having its own procedure, noting the difficulty many people face in coming forward and the reluctance to involve the police, arguing, “there’s an awareness of how the legal system lets people down”.

A report published by OSCCA earlier this week recommended the introduction of balance of probability if “the student body wants the University to use the balance of probability as the standard of proof when considering allegations of student misconduct”.


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The consultation process has been ongoing, with a debate held in Senate House earlier this month, after WomCam also tied over 800 ribbons to the gates of Senate House to represent the signatories of the open letter calling for disciplinary procedure reform. At an open meeting last term, Vice-chancellor Stephen Toope said that he “personally” supports reforms to the disciplinary procedure, though he cautioned that he is “only a voice in the consultation process”.

Between May 2017 and January 2018, the University of Cambridge received over 170 anonymous reports of sexual misconduct. Reports of sexual misconduct spiked dramatically following the launch of the ‘Breaking the Silence’ campaign in October 2017. The campaign saw the creation of the centralised Office of Student Conduct, Complaints and Appeals (OSCCA), the introduction of a specialist Sexual Assault and Harassment Advisor at the University Counselling Service, and the establishment of a new staff-student relationship policy.

The move to change to balance of probabilities is a part of a wider movement across the University aimed at combating sexual assault and harassment, with a consultation process for students on the recently-released OSCCA report open until 22nd June.

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