Monday, 31 December 2012

Like the boney finger of Father Time, the boney finger of the Court of Appeal beckons...

The end of the world is nigh year is almost upon us. Once more we've managed in our usual inebriated and haphazard way, to stagger on for yet one more year. By our reckoning, Vagrants has now been publishing for a full two and one half years. One could almost liken our struggle to remain in the ether-web to that of the mythical Titans who merely struggled to elevate themselves from the stormy shite-pits of Tartarus all in the name of self improvement, but that would be silly. A hurdle or two has been placed before us since the inception of this website in June 2010. Our overriding objective so to speak - since the first letter arrived courtesy of one Ian Austin in March 2010, has been to defend ourselves against allegations of libel, ultimately brought by the venerable Vice Chancellor of the University of Salford Martin Hall, and the other one, who according to them, when acting in their professional capacities are the University of Salford.

Lex Parsomoniae

The irony of the bringing of this claim by Hall and Graves in the name of the University of Salford is unlikely to have been lost on our regulars. You see during this time and in our own peculiar manner, as well as bringing you tales of regular park-bench merry-making, we've also demonstrated that certain senior types at the University of Salford are not at all shy when it comes to either encouraging senior managers to author and distribute rather widely the odd defamatory statement or two against a chap of no fixed salary, when it suits, or making up serious and untrue allegations of criminal impropriety against a heinously whiskered chap of some Christmas face. Two particular examples shine out which we've covered extensively in a previous posting (see 'Sisyphus Shitae and the Labours of Hyperbole').

The Court of Appeal and the Derbyshire Principle

Well, it appears that after a very long and tedious gambol through the libel courts, one particular member of our slightly-soiled fraternity (me) has been granted his day in the Court of Appeal in the Royal Courts of Justice in London on the 28th January 2013. It's a date some of you might want to insert into your yet to be despoiled 2013 diaries. It's worth noting that I'm perfectly happy for this matter to go to full trial. I'd relish the prospect of airing some University of Salford laundry in the High Court. But this appeal has been lodged because it is premised on one or two rather important issues, matters of which the press really should take some notice. For example, I will be asking the Court of Appeal to reassert the 'Derbyshire Principle', a vital piece of case law that restricts the right of public authorities and public bodies to sue in libel. It's something we've argued at length in front of one or two District Judges and its a legal principle that appears to be lost on Messrs Hall and Graves who manage what they themselves describe as a 'public authority' (see previous posting 'This public authority walks into a bar...').

Freedom of Speech

But in initiating these proceedings, Professor Hall has raised matters that I've felt obliged to raise in open court - namely his 'infringements of my human rights'. Two to be precise: my right to exercise 'freedom of speech' and in the final analysis, my right to a fair trial which comes under Article six of the Human Rights Act which revolves around matters such as the noticeable 'inequality of arms' as Hall and Graves have access to considerable financial resources (University funds) upon which to draw to prosecute their claim.

This should be of some interest to every academic and academic-related member of staff across the country. Why? Well academics and academic related staff throughout the UK in our public universities should be able to openly comment upon the manner in which their University is managed and run. Yet academics are being targeted for doing just that. It's recently reported that Professor Ian Parker at Manchester Metropolitan University has been suspended for speaking out against recruitment policies, a process I myself was exposed to. University employers might wish to avail themselves of current European case law on such matters as it's well established in European law in Sorguc V Turkey 2010 that '... the Court underlines the importance of academic freedom, which comprises the academics' freedom to express freely their opinion about the institution or system in which they work and freedom to distribute knowledge and truth without restriction...'. 

Freedom from legal funding

The real shame throughout this whole process, is that as Legal Aid is not available to defend against libel claims, I've had to fight this case without any legal assistance from my own union the UCU. In truth, as well as not being able to avail myself of top legal advisers, I'm also not able to avail myself of tuppence to rub t'gether. Unlike the University who have a top defamation lawyer in top commercial litigator Ian Austin to act upon their instructions, I have no lawyer, no barrister. On the 28th January, I shall be representing myself as I have throughout this libel case. I'm deeply indebted to the kindness and advice of many people who have provided the best advice and huge amounts of support, and in particular two individuals who know who they are, who have advised and have helped steel me in times of real adversity.

A reluctance to underestimate the importance and why...

Yet this isn't just about fighting for the rights of academics to criticise the managers who run their universities. It's about resisting and rolling back the forcible insertion of market-driven managerialism into our public university system. Universities are not like flotsam, cast adrift and battered on the sea of global economic uncertainty. If that were the case, as some Vice Chancellors seem to suggest, then why have Strategic Management Teams? In the real world, specific decisions are made by specific people, often highly paid human beings individuals or groups of individuals, decisions which frequently translate into mass job cuts, worsening conditions for staff and an increasingly negative experience for increased fees paying students.

But it's going to be a benchmark case for a singular reason. It's about fighting for the principle that every taxpayer and citizen should of right be able to speak out publicly against the highly paid officials, paid from the public purse, who run our public universities, public authorities and other public bodies, without the fear of a libel claim landing on their door mat. To use an analogy: we resist the the chilling effect of winter by lighting fires. In order to fight against the chilling effect of a libel claim, we need to light a bigger fire.

La Lutte Continue!

Oh... and a happy New Year to you all!

Notes and Resources

1)  See page 31 of the ET's Reserved Judgement

Before considering taking legal action in the form of a libel claim, all the above has been asserted in open court, so there!

Usual disclaimer: This work is and expression of opinion on a matter of public interest and contains the opinions of the author. It is intended to report current events that are of public interest and public concern. The reproduction and use of any documents, photos and video images herein is to provide humour and accuracy in order to avoid civil litigation and claims of misquoting. In reporting current events they are used within the context of Fair Dealing or Fair Use. The author is happy to provide further acknowledgement if requested (email below). The author also suggests that before embarking upon expensive civil actions for libel, contact the author. We have reams of documentary evidence which we are happy to provide. A right of reply also operates. We are also happy to make corrections and if necessary provide an apology. Email