Wednesday, 13 October 2010

The Price of Justice?

Dear Mr Stephenson....

This little snippet has been forwarded today by a former colleague.

It would appear that Mr Stephenson from Information Governance Services has decided rather belatedly that Mr James Brown's Freedom of Information request deemed 'vexatious' under section 14(1) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 on the 2nd February 2010, is no longer so.

The climb up...

Originally posted on 1st December 2009, his request on the Whatdotheyknow website was quite simple and straight forward:

Dear Sir or Madam,

In accordance with the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act, I am submitting a request for a complete and accurate summary of legal and filing fee costs incurred by and/or paid for by the University of Salford in connection with the University's pursuit of disciplinary proceedings against members of staff.

In fulfilling this request, I would ask that the University provide the names of all providers of legal services and the precise amounts paid to them in relation to the above.

I am requesting this information for 2007, 2008 and 2009.

Please provide this information separately for each year and for each disciplinary case.

I would respectfully point out that the Solicitors Act 1974 s64(2)requires solicitors to furnish detailed itemised bills for conduct of contentious matters upon request of the client.

Yours faithfully,

James Brown

The climbdown...

I print Mr Stephenson's reply to the original request in its entirety:

Dear Mr Brown,

I am now able to respond to your request for a summary of legal costs relating to disciplinary proceedings. The information requested is as follows:

All 2009 PinsentMasons Eversheds
Case 1 975.37
Case 2 20530.40
Case 3 40331.23

There were no costs from the years 2007 and 2008

If you are dissatisfied with the handling of your request, you have the right to ask for an internal review. Internal review requests should be submitted to [1][University of Salford request email] or to me at the address below. Further information is available from the Information Commissioner's Office,Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire, SK9 5AF, [2]

Yours sincerely

Matthew Stephenson

Why the delays?

This author has as he writes, eleven outstanding Freedom of Information requests, all deemed 'vexatious' by Mr Stephenson and subsequently refused. One further FOI request has been awaiting an internal review since 10 December 2009. That's a whopping ten months! Documents obtained under a separate Data Protection Request last year show that the esteemed University Registrar Dr Adrian Graves is keeping a close eye on FOI requests submitted to the UoS.

...and gripping hands!
Recent movements suggest that the Information Commissioner is currently dealing with this author's requests and those of one other former Alumni of UoS. Further information has been provided to the ICO over the past two weeks to back the request for this information to be released by the University into the public domain.

It is entirely possible of course that the Information Commissioner will not force the University to release any of this information. On the other hand he might and conclude that Mr Stephenson and Dr Graves the Registrar are simply very slow readers.

A lot of expensive letters to their name

However, the content of the newly made-publicly accessible anyone-can-read-to-their-hearts-content information might suggest that icy grip of inflation is tightening its stranglehold on the finances of UoS. It is clear that legal costs for disciplinary matters are climbing heavenwards, particularly with regard to the cost of services provided by Pinsent-Masons and Eversheds to the University. From £975 to £20,000 and £40,000 a shot, clearly these institutes of fiscal restraint would appear to be giving a hell of a lot of advice. One does of course wonder precisely what they are writing their letters on... reclaimed medieval parchment lovingly restored by earnest partial palaeographers, delivered on horseback by a semi-retired Persian Satrap in a string of Sedan chairs-in-waiting?

Could this be rationalised and restructured
into a one-person job to save money?
I'm also reliably informed that the University have in the past utilised the services of Ian Austen's Halliwells (now sadly defunct), and more latterly Beachcroft LLP located at Spinningfields in Manchester. Having received several long threatening 'Halliwells letters' under instruction from the University, one can imagine that they were produced at some cost to the student fee and taxpayer.

Why a University with its own very prestigious Law School with a nice shiny new building to boot, would wish to retain the services of four different legal advisers is anyone's guess. Might it not seem a little excessive given the current economic climate and the withdrawing of large sums of funding across the HE sector by HEFCE?

Value for money

Well here we have it. Isn't it obvious? The strategy of investing huge sums in pursuing staff through the Disciplinary Procedure and their often resultant Employment Tribunals is entirely sympathetic to the above? Only a complete fool would seek to raise the issue of how many student bursaries or fee waivers this £60,000 could facilitate? Or for that matter, the annual salary of an extra academic at a cost of around... er... £60,000?  Neither of these frivolous gestures would bring any quantifiable value to students.

Never mind. It's highly likely in the next round of job losses looming on the horizon under the aegis of the recent University-wide restructuring, that in this reverse-world, a few jobs could possibly be sacrificed in order to ensure that in times of unprecedented economic hardship, the public purse continues to serve a useful purpose in maintaining the lavish lifestyles of the private legal sector.

1 comment:

  1. For further details of how the HE Sector spends its public money, link to