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Ex-student fails in policy bid

A former graduate student has failed to get the go-ahead at the High Court for a challenge against Oxford University after accusing it of operating an unlawful policy not to investigate allegations of rape and sexual assault, except in extremely limited circumstances.

Elizabeth Ramey reported an assault in 2011 - she followed the university's complaints procedure, but said there was a failure to investigate her allegation properly or to take any action against the person she accused.

The university regulator, the Office of the Independent Adjudicator, recommended that Oxford clarify and amend its policies. But Ms Ramey argues that the amended policy and procedure on harassment still allows Oxford to avoid investigating serious sexual assaults, leaving women at risk.

Ms Ramey, who waived her right to anonymity, brought legal action with support from the End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW).

Dismissing her application for judicial review today, Mr Justice Edis said Ms Ramey, who now lives and works in the United States, had never been subject to the new policy and had not been "aggrieved by its application".

He ruled that "accordingly she lacks standing to bring this claim".

The judge said: "It appears to me that it is inappropriate for the claimant to be granted permission to bring judicial review to question, not the terms of the policy itself, but its application in circumstances in which it has never actually been applied."

The appropriate time for a challenge would be if it was applied "in a way which is arguably unlawful".

Mr Justice Edis said Ms Ramey made a complaint in 2011 that she had been raped by another student.

He said: "That complaint was referred to the police who decided not to prosecute."

The university proctors decided not to take further action against the person at the centre of the allegation.

The judge pointed out that Ms Ramey was not seeking an order that her claim should be re-investigated - the focus of the proceedings was on the legality of the new policy.

Ms Ramey accused Oxford of breaching its public sector equality duty by failing to have due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination and harassment of women when deciding on a policy that generally excludes investigations of serious sexual assaults.

In written submissions lodged with the High Court, she said: "The university's new policy will further discourage women from reporting sexual assaults, knowing that their cases are unlikely to be investigated or lead to disciplinary proceedings."

She argued this not only placed "an unfair emotional burden on women" but put them at greater risk, as research showed that the vast majority of campus rape was committed by repeat offenders.

Before the hearing, a university spokesman said: " The harassment policy was developed through consultation with students and other interested parties and had regard to practice across UK higher education generally."

Referring to the policy, the judge said that "as written, in my judgment, it is not arguable that there is anything unlawful about this policy" - the issue was whether the "proposed application of it" was unlawful.

Ms Ramey's solicitor Louise Whitfield, of law firm Deighton Pierce Glynn, said in a statement afterwards: "U nfortunately the judge dismissed Ms Ramey's case this morning on the basis that the lawfulness of Oxford's new policy should be considered in the light of the application of that policy.

"He indicated that such a claim should be brought by an individual who had had their complaint dealt with under the policy since its introduction in December 2014, rather than Ms Ramey's, whose complaint was made in 2011 under an earlier version of a similar policy.

"The judge specifically recognised that the issues raised were significant. He stated that such a policy (in which the circumstances for investigating rape are limited) might be unlawful if applied inflexibly."

She added: "M y client is very disappointed with this result and the fact that more women must be the victims of serious sexual violence before it can be established that the university's policy is unlawful, that it discriminates against women and creates a hostile environment in which they are expected to study with no redress against those who assault them.

"We have already been contacted by other women students whose experiences have been similar to Ms Ramey's and are considering whether a further claim should be brought in the light of the judge's comments."

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