Around 1,500 students in halls of residence were sent an email by Manchester Metropolitan University (‘MMU’) on Friday telling them they must self-isolate in their accommodation for 14 days in a bid to contain a coronavirus outbreak. Security guards preventing students from leaving the building.
Jon Heath, a partner at Levins and formerly a student at Manchester, questioned the legal authority for preventing students from leaving. He offered to provide free assistance to the students involved. Other legal commentators also questioned MMU’s actions and there was a widespread call for an explanation.
MMU has now back tracked and said that students are free to leave but has asked them not to. Jon has spoken to Emma Barnett on BBC 5 Live and is has participated in a discussion on Sky News. The immediate issue of whether the students are free to leave has been resolved, but other questions remain unanswered. Why did MMU tell students that they had to remain inside when they had no legal authority to do so? Will MMU use their own internal disciplinary powers to suspend/expel students who leave halls? What was the role of Manchester City Council in imposing the so-called “lockdown”?
We have been contacted by a number of concerned students and their parents. It is too early to say whether the students have any claim for damages against MMU. Jon’s original offer was not about suing MMU for damages but about ensuring that students were not unlawfully deprived of their liberty. If lawyers are prepared to stand back and let the laws be flouted then there is something very wrong with our system. It is not always about money (whatever the cynics may think!)
Jon has written to MMU and is working with Rabah Kherbane of Doughty Street Chambers. We are not in a position to advise students yet as we need further information about the circumstances. We will provide further updates as and when we can.
If you are a student and require assistance please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Levins mention: English universities must consider partial fee refunds, says regulator (The Guardian – Monday 28th Sept 2020)