January 23, 2011

Professor Bob Burgess (Vice-Chancellor, University of Leicester) and the honours system

There is nothing new in the view that the British honours system is a discreditable institution. I believe that my encounter with the system adds weight to calls for the system to be reformed or abolished.

As explained in an earlier post on this website ('About the University of Leicester', 21 January 2010 - see also 'Legal and other costs - the University of Leicester and others', 17 April 2010), I have been involved in legal proceedings that I brought against my former employer (I resigned in 2007), the University of Leicester, the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Robert Burgess, and the (now former) Director of Personnel Services, Dr Alison Hall. The respondents denied the allegations. In November 2009 the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) dismissed an application I had made concerning case management matters in the Leicester Employment Tribunal (there had been no hearing on the merits in the Leicester Tribunal). On 19th January 2010 the EAT published a misleading and superficial judgment delivered by Mr Justice McMcullen, that judge essentially upholding earlier irrational decisions of Judge President Underhill.

In January 2010 I learned that Professor Burgess had been awarded a knighthood by Elizabeth the Queen in the New Year's honours round.

I understand, from information in the public domain concerning the time-scale for processing a nomination, that the decision in the honours machinery to award the knighthood would have been taken while the legal proceedings were still live. If that is not correct, it must at least have been the case that the nomination for an honour would have been making its way through the honours machinery while my legal case was before the EAT and the Leicester Employment Tribunal. And, so far as the EAT judgment is concerned, since the EAT is not the last tier in the legal process, my legal proceedings could not have been considered to be at an end when Professor Burgess was awarded the knighthood.

Information concerning the award of the knighthood to Professor Burgess was sought on my behalf from the Honours and Appointments Secretariat in the Cabinet Office under the Freedom of Information Act. That request was refused by the Honours and Appointments Secretariat and an application for an internal review of the decision was unsuccessful. At the heart of these refusals was the bizarre assertion that confidentiality was essential to the integrity of the honours system. (One element of this secrecy is the 'principle' that a nominee for an honour should not know who nominated them or what was said in the nomination.) My position was that disclosure of the information was in the public interest.

I wish to make clear that I am not arguing here that Professor Burgess had breached the law in respect of the issues I had raised in the ET proceedings. A person is of course innocent until proved guilty. The questions are rather of a different kind. Some of these, taken from the aforementioned application for review of the decision of the Honours and Appointments Secretariat, follow below:

'It is contended that in awarding a knighthood to Professor Burgess when it did, the State effectively interfered in the legal process, putting Professor Burgess and those associated with him in the legal proceedings (other respondents, witnesses for the respondents and the respondents' legal representatives) at an advantage in those proceedings. This is because of the high esteem in which people awarded an honour, especially a knighthood, seem to be held, at least among the more privileged in society. As material explaining the honours system tells the public, recipients of honours are considered by those in the honours machinery to be "exceptional", to have "moral courage and vision" and have undergone investigation to ensure that there are no questions about their "probity". Being awarded an honour undoubtedly involves an elevation of status in the eyes of some. And in Dr Truter's case, the respondents' representatives appear to have considered that status was a factor that would be taken into account by judges, emphasising on more than one occasion in the ET the "senior" status of individuals on the respondents' side and also the fact that the chair of an internal grievance committee was "himself an Employment Judge".' (This grievance committee was responsible for dealing with certain grievances I had submitted before I resigned from my post at the University of Leicester.)

Accompanying the above representations in the application for a review of the decision of the Honours and Appointments Secretariat was the submission that 'questions arising from what has occurred are such as to add to the need for the disclosure of the information previously requested as a matter of public interest', some of the questions being:

- 'According to the Phillips Report, [*] a past "civil judgment reflecting on the probity of the individual would be taken into account" in considering whether someone is fit to receive an honour. Is it the policy to award someone an honour even where such a person is a respondent in legal proceedings? If there are legal proceedings, one consideration might be whether the processing of a nomination should be postponed until the proceedings are concluded, in the interests of the public purse. Clearly, if a recipient of an honour involved in such proceedings is subsequently found by a court or tribunal to have acted unlawfully, and it is then considered necessary to strip him or her of the honour, there would have been a wasting of public funds involved in both the processing of the nomination and the removal of the honour.'
* Report of a review of the honours system undertaken by Sir Hayden Phillips in 2004.

- 'If it is the policy to bestow an honour even in circumstances where there are legal proceedings against the relevant individual, are those involved in the process of investigation and conferral advised that this could mean that they might become drawn into legal proceedings, for example, as witnesses?'

- 'Did Professor Burgess or anyone providing information in respect of his nomination disclose the fact that he was a respondent in legal proceedings? If the reply is in the negative, does this tell us anything about (a) the quality or vigour of the scrutiny of nominations; (b) Professor Burgess's suitability for an honour (if he did not reveal that he was a respondent)? If the reply is in the affirmative, was any further information requested with a view to establishing whether anything might suggest that Professor Burgess's conduct in respect of Dr Truter was not consistent with one or more of the principles of public life? Were any misrepresentations made in respect of the legal proceedings? Were any University of Leicester staff survey results requested for the period in which Professor Burgess has occupied the position of Vice-Chancellor?'

- 'Might any of those involved in the process, including the nominator, have been motivated by a wish to help Professor Burgess and/or those associated with him in the legal proceedings, or have any other questionable motive? And did any of those persons have any connections with judicial officers? As indicated in the [post on the UK bullied academics website headed "About the University of Leicester"], there are questions concerning connections or associations between the respondents and the judiciary which were never examined by the ET or EAT as the law requires.'

There are other issues that I believe need to be explored in the public interest. For instance, the Queen is the Visitor of the University of Leicester, a position that I understand gives her an adjudicative role in respect of certain internal matters; is it really appropriate for her to be conferring honours on individuals she may be called to judge on? Another question, as suggested in the above request for a review of the Honours and Appointments Secretariat decision not to disclose information regarding Professor Burgess's knighthood (and of relevance not only to the award of honours in the higher education sector, but also in other sectors), is whether those in the honours machinery seek to establish through hard data, such as staff surveys, whether there are any employment relations matters that might reflect negatively on a manager or head of an organisation who has been nominated for an honour. For information, a Staff Attitude Survey undertaken in 2004 at the University of Leicester - several years after Professor Burgess took up post as Vice-Chancellor - identified these issues, among others: 33% of academic staff did not think it safe to speak up and challenge the way things were done; 19% of staff said they had been 'subjected to unacceptable behaviours at work'; there was a need to 'improve management and supervisory skills of senior staff'; there was a need for 'more transparency in decision making and intentions'; there was a need 'to talk and listen to staff no matter how far down the ladder they are'; there was a need for 'more staff to avoid excessive workloads'. I am also aware of the results of a survey undertaken in 2006 as part of the University of Leicester's legal duty to implement a disability equality scheme. Those results showed a less than rosy picture in respect of attitudes towards disabled staff within the University of Leicester.

The issue of managers' pay is also potentially relevant in the area of staff relations and is of course also currently very sensitive for the public generally in respect of the public sector and institutions such as banks that are propped up by public funds. In respect of universities, it is no doubt also a sensitive issue for students. So far as Professor Burgess is concerned, the Leicester Mercury newspaper reported on 22nd September 2010 that Professor Burgess '[topped] the public sector rich list [in Leicestershire] with a £245,000 package in the past financial year' (2009/10). That figure is well above the average of a significant proportion of other staff in the University of Leicester. I also understand that in percentage terms, Professor Burgess's pay increase in the aforementioned period greatly exceeded that of most of his colleagues in the University. To be sure, Professor Burgess is not alone in this. The question is, should the Queen, the Prime Minister and others in the honours machinery be holding people up who allow this to happen, whether in the public sector or the private sector, as pillars of the community?

I am adding here a postscript to my initial contribution on this website, 'About the University of Leicester'. In mid-2010, a few months after Professor Burgess received the knighthood, Professor Burgess was made a Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Leicestershire by the Lord Lieutenant of Leicestershire, Jennifer Lady Gretton JP. (As a footnote, it appears that Professor Burgess's appointment was made in honour of service to the local community. The details of this service do not seem to be specified. There is information showing that the University of Leicester is one of the sponsors of the Lord Lieutenant's 'Award for Young People', but - presuming the sponsorship has a financial element - this could not be the service for which Professor Burgess was honoured since it would surely constitute a kind of cash for honours situation - and all the worse since the cash would presumably be that obtained from the public perhaps including financially hard-pressed students in fees. The service to the community given by Professor Burgess must then be something else.)

The Lord Lieutenant is the Queen's official representative for Leicestershire, carrying out various functions on the Queen's behalf. Deputy Lord Lieutenants such as Professor Burgess undertake engagements and duties which include representing the Lord Lieutenant. While it is the High Sheriff who (according to information published by the Lord Lieutenant's office) 'has precedence when in attendance upon Her Majesty's High Court Judges at the Crown Court', one of the 'main duties' of the Lord Lieutenant is 'Leadership of the Local Magistracy as Chairman of the Advisory Committee on Justices of the Peace (Magistrates)'.

As I indicated in the post headed 'About the University of Leicester', there was evidence suggesting associations or connections between the University of Leicester and the ET, but - despite legal and ethical principles requiring such questions to be addressed - neither the ET nor the EAT responded to the matter. And the respondents remained silent on the relevant submissions that were made on my behalf. Given that Professor Burgess's appointment as a Deputy Lord Lieutenant carries with it associations with judicial officers, there would now seem to be even more reason for anyone who might find themselves involved in a legal dispute with Professor Burgess and/or the University of Leicester to press for clear disclosure in legal proceedings of the nature and extent of connections or associations with the judiciary. Such connections or associations are not illegal but transparency is crucial.

Glynis M. Truter
LL.B. (Hons.) (King's College London), PG Dip. Legal Practice (College of Law), LL.M. (King's College London), Ph.D. (Cambridge)

11 comments:

Dr Howard Fredrics said...

One can demand that a Judge in the ET recuse him/herself on the basis of a conflict of interest that creates the appearance of or actual bias, and the Judge is required to respond to this application. Of course, if the Judge is corrupt, then he/she will likely deny any such bias or even appearance thereof. The only option then is to apply to the EAT to appeal the Judge's decision to refuse to recuse or otherwise claiming bias/appearance of bias, which is an enormously uphill battle.

Anonymous said...

Leave Bob Burgess alone. He has enough to worry about. He doesn't realise it yet but he will soon.

Anonymous said...

I do not believe he any inclination to worry about anything. His position is very nice at Leicester. There is no need for him to worry about mis-treatment of staff. Staff feel free to give over exaggerated claims of mis-conduct.

Anonymous said...

"There is no need for him to worry about mis-treatment of staff."

au contraire. Good luck Bob. You will need it.

Anonymous said...

Dismissal biased by several pages of crafted statements. This was determined by coverage and finaly disclosing receipt of warning.

Anonymous said...

Mis-treatment of staff should be a concern when staff do not know when to give up. It seems that their importance is to totally disregard the nature of contents of disciplinary allegations. Nearly 60 sides of crafted statements is far too much in one case of their disciplinary hearing.

Anonymous said...

Choose you enemies carefully Bob.

Anonymous said...

Information that is held about an individual should not have any process that requires alteration of meaning for purpose to exclude individual from a group. If continued behavior is to exclude that individual results in a different format. Such format is then considered to be substantive. This may then be considered unlawful due to label that does not have any consequence on member but to exclude them from a group.

Anonymous said...

Dismissal from such an organisation as University of Leicester does leave a bad taste in the mouth. The jumping to conclusions of people in interviews and subsequent not hearing about outcomes. This gets worst the as Years pass by from the dismissal date. The lack of expenses to go to interviews due to the stigma attached with such an exit from the organisation.

Max Falankuk said...

I am a PhD student at the University of Leicester UoL and I have been bullied by Seniors Members in the genetics dep. My case is currently in the hands of the OIA, I have a large amount of evidence of mistreating, discrimination and abuse. The UoL is making me fail my PhD despite I passed my Viva Voce and has made false allegation against me without to be able to substantiate these allegations. I would like to get in touch with Glanys M Trouter

Anonymous said...

Even the Director of Human Resources believed he was being bullied and harassed by Sir Bob. He lodged a grievance and was catapulted out without the generous pay-off he had hoped for.

As for Bob, he has been lucky to make it to retirement without any disciplinaries. A man with temper issues. He was captured on CCTV on campus, hurling a traffic cone towards a member of security. But Bob did not get dismissed for gross misconduct. No, the security officer did and some of his colleagues for keeping the incident on video!