Best Use of Law

Legally Safer Universities

100 students take their own lives each year. Universities need to be held accountable for their decisions and students need to be protected with a statutory duty of care.

The Campaign

Natasha Abrahart was a bright, independent student, who loved physics, computer programming, playing piano, and baking.  She studied physics at the University of Bristol. In her second year of study, she took her own life aged 20. Losing Natasha was a tragedy. Her family feel that the law should have protected her but didn’t, and that failure to learn from it is a disgrace.

Natasha’s  parents instigated a civil action against her university. They wanted absolute clarity, on behalf of anybody who is thinking of going to university, as to whether students are adequately protected, legally, under the Equality Act and the Duty of Care.

awards

Natasha – Holiday in Berlin (2016)

Thank you for shortlisting us for this award, SMK is an organisation that has campaigning at its heart and it’s an honour to be recognised. We are just ordinary retired people; we didn’t plan to become campaigners. Since our daughter’s death, all we have wanted to do is to make changes, that will protect students, so that no other families, friends, and communities have to experience the pain that we have.”

awards

Natasha – Holiday in Berlin (2016)

Thank you for shortlisting us for this award, SMK is an organisation that has campaigning at its heart and it’s an honour to be recognised. We are just ordinary retired people; we didn’t plan to become campaigners. Since our daughter’s death, all we have wanted to do is to make changes, that will protect students, so that no other families, friends, and communities have to experience the pain that we have.”

The Change

In 2022, a court ruled that discrimination by the university caused Natasha’s death – essentially confirming that universities are bound by the same set of rules as the rest of us. That decision is under appeal. However, the same court also found that no duty of care was owed by a university to a student.

They were able to win their claim under the Equality Act because Natasha’s social anxiety disorder was classed as a disability, and the judge ruled the university had not made reasonable adjustments in the way she was assessed as part of her course.

They built a strong case and now have taken it further by building a coalition of parents whose children have also committed suicide whilst students. These parents want new legislation to protect students who are not already protected under the Equality Act.

The campaign asks for universities to have a legal duty to protect their students from reasonably foreseeable harm caused by either direct injury or a failure to act – a legal duty for organisations to do what might reasonably be expected. This is a low threshold test and, the campaign argues, something that institutions should already be doing, irrespective of any legal necessity.

The Future

Not everybody is safe at university, so the group want students across the UK to be given the same level of legal protection as university staff. They believe that universities across the UK should be held accountable for their decisions- and want to put a stop to students being treated as if they don’t matter. They want the safety of our students to be a ‘legal must’.

They continue campaigning for a change in the law so that universities are legally accountable for how students are treated, and for all universities to have a set standard of expected behaviour.

The next step in this campaign is formally delivering their petition to Number 10 Downing Street, and a subsequent briefing session for lawmakers in the Palace of Westminster, both scheduled for 25 April 2023.

They’re at the start of a very long journey, but are growing, learning and building momentum.

Who else was involved?

The LEARN Network: a community of bereaved families seeking meaning from their loss by taking action to prevent future deaths.

INQUEST: independent charity supporting grieving families throughout the post-death process, and working with them in their fight to secure truth, justice and accountability.

#ForThe100: a group of parents and students campaigning for legally safer universities.

Simon Marshall and Sophie Flint from TBD Marketing who advised on a pro-bono basis totalling >£10,000 of pro-bono work.