Mark Shaw QC: ‘Muslims should be able to lead Christian Unions’
Mark Shaw QC, the independent adjudicator appointed by Exeter University, strongly criticised the Constitution of Exeter CU because it restricted the membership to Christians, despite the fact its meetings were open to everyone – of all faiths and none. He held it discriminatory that the CU should be run by Christians and held that the Guild policies in forcing the CU to be led by members open to other faiths was ‘laudable’. He concluded that Muslims should be able not only to attend meetings, but also to lead the Christian Union. Cranmer looks forward to the counter assertion, yet to be brought, that a Christian should be permitted to lead the Mohammedans’ Friday prayers.
Ben Martin, the Christian student at the centre of the row over the Human Rights of members of the Christian Union, has rejected the Independent Adjudication into the case as ‘unbalanced and selective’. He will be seeking a Judicial Review in the High Court. On January 5, he filed papers at the High Court asking for a Judicial Review of the Guild's actions under the Human Rights Act. He was subsequently informed that the University would require the CU to go through an informal internal adjudication procedure before any external procedure could be followed.
First, the University tried to impose a leading lawyer with strong connections to the National Union of Students on the CU as adjudicator. The process was then delayed to after Easter (a time when students are revising or sitting exams). Following complaints, the University brought in another barrister, this time a QC, Mark Shaw (there is no obligation to appoint a barrister, only an independent person of standing in the community).
Ben Martin said: ‘The university established an internal appeals process to resolve the dispute and the CU engaged with the process in full seeking a non judicial resolution of the dispute. Out of primarily public funds, the university and Guild had access to leading firms of solicitors and barristers (including QCs) whilst the CU were denied all such assistance.
‘Mr Shaw determined that the process should be “legal” rather than informal as is usually the case, and also decided that the process should deal with substantive and procedural issues of law. He also stated that the CU should be prepared to pay the costs of the university and Guild which could have been more than £50,000.’
When the CU complained at the legalised process, asked for an informal process without lawyers and that they should not be subject to costs, Mr Shaw refused.
Mr Martin said: ‘Any criticism of this process by the CU resulted in a sharp response from Mr Shaw, together with claims that the CU was uncooperative. Only when the CU refused to continue with a process that could bankrupt them, was there a guarantee of no costs.
‘Mr Shaw held that the Guild were “laudable” in their aims, the University had no responsibility for the discrimination against Christians, and that the CU was wrong to require that those leading the CU should be Christians. That position, he said, could be held by anyone of any faith or none, provided they agree to the objectives of the CU!
‘In paragraph 92 (4) of his adjudication, Mr Shaw even goes on to suggest that on the Exeter University campus, the “Welsh Society should be open to Scottish members; the wine society open to teetotal members, the choral society should be open to non-singing members, and the cheerleading society should be open to male members ...”
‘Quite frankly, reading this from a QC, you don't know whether to laugh or cry! I would advise any student who wants to use the “informal” adjudication process to be prepared to face QCs and potential costs beyond their means.
‘I fully co-operated with Mr Shaw and he has treated my fundamental rights of religious association and belief in a derisory fashion. Issues of religious association and freedom of speech are fundamental human rights and not ones on which I, or the CU is prepared to compromise.’
The CU at Exeter has always said that taking the matter to Court would be a last resort, but in light of the Independent Adjudication from Mr Shaw, the CU finds itself in a position where it has no other option by to instruct the Human Right's barrister Paul Diamond to instigate Judicial Review proceedings against the University and Guild. Mr Diamond has recently advocated on behalf of Nadia Eweida (which was won) and Lydia Playfoot (which was lost).
The formal response of the University of Exeter can be found here.
Notwithstanding the risks, the judgement of Mark Shaw is absurd, and needs to be challenged. Cranmer can't stand the thought of tone-deaf students asserting their human right to join the Gilbert & Sullivan Society...