Codes of Practice and Procedure - Public Interest Disclosure

<br /> Oxford University Gazette: Codes of Practice (supplement)

Oxford University Gazette

Codes of Practice and Procedure:
Public Interest Disclosure

Academic Integrity in Research

Supplement (3) to Gazette No. 4517

Wednesday, 30 June 1999

Gazette No. 4518 (1 July 1999)

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Contents of the supplement:


The Public Interest Disclosure Act came into force on 1 January 1999. It
provides employees with legal protection against being dismissed or
penalised by their employers as a result of disclosing certain serious
concerns. It also requires employees who wish to disclose such concerns
and who wish to retain the protection offered by the Act to follow the
relevant internal procedure provided by their employer in all but the
most exceptional circumstances. The following guidance and procedure
have been designed to assist employees who wish to make such
disclosures, and to secure their proper investigation. It is also available
to members of the University (including students), whether or not
employees, although it is appreciated that the specific terms of the Act
apply only to employees.

The Proctors perform a historic role as `ombudsmen' to the University,
empowered under the University's statutes to investigate complaints
made to them by members of the University. In addition, members of
Congregation have a right under the Statutes to ask a question in
Congregation relating to any matter concerning the policy or the
administration of the University (Tit. II, Sect. VII, cl. 1,
Statutes, 1997, p. 15). The University also has in place a
number of policies and procedures to address problems that may arise
for its employees and students, including those relating to grievance,
harassment, and discipline.

In many instances where there is a suspicion of improper behaviour,
allegations will be such as to be dealt with directly by reference to
these procedures, details of which are set out in the University Statutes
and summarised in staff handbooks and in the Proctors' and Assessor's
Memorandum. However, there may be occasions when an individual has
concerns relating to matters in the public interest which he or she
believes to merit particular investigation. The following guidance sets
out the way in which the University will address such concerns.

This policy is intended to assist individuals who believe that they have
discovered malpractice or impropriety. It is not designed to question
financial or business decisions taken by the University; nor may it be
used to reconsider any matters which have already been addressed
under a harassment complaint or disciplinary procedures. Once it is in
place it is reasonable to expect individuals to await the conclusion of
any investigation or review instigated under its terms before seeking to
air their complaints outside the institution.

The University places the greatest importance on the integrity of its
operations. Individuals are encouraged to bring to the attention of the
University any matters referred to below about which they are

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This guidance is directed specifically at the disclosure of information
which is in the public interest and which in the reasonable belief of the
person making the disclosure tends to show one or more of the

(a) criminal activity;

(b) failure to comply with legal obligations;

(c) danger to health and safety;

(d) damage to the environment;

(e) academic or professional malpractice;

(f) failure to comply with the Statutes, Decrees, and
Regulations of the University and the codes of practice contained

(g) attempts to conceal any of the above.

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An individual making a disclosure relating to such matters to the
appropriate person will not be penalised provided the disclosure is

(1) in good faith; and

(2) in the reasonable belief of the individual making the disclosure
that the information disclosed, and any allegation contained in it, are
substantially true.

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The University will treat all such disclosures in a confidential manner.

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Malicious allegations

In the event of malicious or vexatious allegations, disciplinary action
may be taken against the individual concerned.

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An individual who wishes to make a disclosure should do so in the first
instance (1) to the Registrar in the case of a disclosure concerning an
employee or employees of the University, or concerning both employees
and students of the University, or (2) to the Proctors in the case of
complaints concerning a student or students, or concerning a university

The Registrar or Proctors as appropriate shall decide whether the
concern is such as may be addressed under existing university
procedures, for example in relation to harassment, grievance, or
discipline, or whether further investigation is required. Reference to the
Registrar shall be taken to mean a Pro-Vice-Chancellor where the
disclosure involves the Registrar.

In the event that the Registrar or the Proctors are of the opinion that
investigation is necessary, additional steps shall be taken as follows:
(a) where the concerns relate to integrity in the conduct
of research, investigation shall be carried out under the provisions of
the code of guidance and procedure relating to academic integrity in
research (see below);

(b) in the case of other concerns where the complaint
involves Junior Members of the University or the conduct of a
university examination, these shall be investigated by the Proctors
under their statutory powers;

(c) in the case of other concerns, these shall be brought
to the attention of the relevant head of department, or faculty board
chair as appropriate, who shall conduct an investigation, or shall
establish a small panel to investigate on behalf of himself or herself,
drawing on appropriate expertise where necessary (for example in the
event of allegations of financial irregularity).

The Registrar or the Proctors, as appropriate, shall inform the person
making the disclosure of the nature of the investigation to be
undertaken and the likely timescale.

Where the investigation reveals prima facie evidence of misconduct, the
matter shall also be referred to the appropriate body for disciplinary
action under the terms of the University's Statutes and Decrees.

In all cases, the matter shall be investigated as speedily as is consistent
with thoroughness and fairness. The final outcome of the investigation
shall be reported to the Staff Committee or the Appointments Committee
of the General Board, as appropriate, and the committee shall bring
issues of general importance to the attention of Council.

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The action taken, including the outcome of any investigation, shall be
reported to the person making the disclosure and in the event that no
action is taken that person shall be given an explanation. In the event
that no action is taken, the individual should be allowed the opportunity
to remake the disclosure to a Pro-Vice-Chancellor. The Pro- Vice-
Chancellor shall consider all the information presented, the procedures
that were followed, and the reasons for not taking any further action.
The outcome of this will either be to confirm that no further action is
required or that further investigation is required, in which case the
procedures in (a)–(c) under `Procedure'
above, as appropriate, shall be followed.

Where a disclosure is made, the person or persons against whom the
disclosure is made shall be told of it and the evidence supporting it,
and shall be allowed to comment before any investigation, or further
action, is concluded.

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Statement of Principle

The University expects all members of the University including staff and
students, and those who are not members of the University but who are
conducting research on university premises or using university
facilities, to observe the highest standards in the conduct of their
research. In pursuance of such high standards, it is expected that they

(a) take steps to acquaint themselves with available guidance
as to `best practice' whether in relation to matters of research policy,
finance or safety relevant to their area of research; for example, the
statement `safeguarding good scientific practice' published by the
Director General of the Research Councils and the Chief Executives of
UK Research Councils in December 1998;

(b) observe such legal and ethical requirements as are laid
down by the University or such other properly appointed bodies as are
involved in their field of research;

(c) take steps to secure the safety of those associated with
the research;

(d) report any conflict of interest, whether actual or
prospective, to the appropriate authority;

(e) observe fairness and equity in the conduct of their

Failure to comply with the code may give rise to an allegation of
misconduct. Misconduct in research may be ground for disciplinary
action, and if serious, for dismissal or expulsion.

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Definition of misconduct

Misconduct for the purpose of this code means the fabrication,
falsification, plagiarism or deception in proposing, carrying out or
reporting results of research and deliberate, dangerous or negligent
deviations from accepted practice in carrying out research. It includes
failure to follow an agreed protocol if this failure results in
unreasonable risk or harm to humans, other vertebrates or the
environment and facilitating of misconduct in research by collusion in,
or concealment of, such actions by others. It also includes any plan or
conspiracy or attempt to do any of these things.

It does not include honest error or honest differences in
interpretation or judgement in evaluating research methods or results,
or misconduct (including gross misconduct) unrelated to research

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All members of the University, and individuals permitted to work in
University institutions, have responsibility to report any incident of
misconduct, whether this has been witnessed, or is suspected.
Suspicions reported in confidence and in good faith will not lead to
disciplinary proceedings against the person making the complaint. In the
event, however, of a malicious allegation, appropriate action will be

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All allegations will be investigated in the strictest confidence. All those
who are involved in the procedures for investigating an allegation,
including witnesses, representatives and persons providing information,
evidence and/or advice, have a duty to maintain confidentiality. For an
allegation to be investigated fully, and appropriate action taken, it may,
however, be necessary to disclose the identity of the person making the
complaint to the person who is the subject of the complaint. The person
making the complaint will be advised before such disclosure is made.

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(a) In the case of concerns regarding a person or persons
other than students, information and advice may be obtained from the
head of department, or in the case of non departmentally organised
faculties, the chairman of the faculty board, provided that if the
concerns relate to the holder of that office, advice should be sought
from the Proctors.

(b) In the case of concerns regarding a student, information
and advice may be obtained from the Clerk to the Proctors.

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Procedure in the case of suspected

These procedures are without prejudice to the normal operation of the
relevant disciplinary procedure of the University and in the event of
any conflict between these procedures and the relevant disciplinary
procedure of the University, the latter shall prevail.They have been set
out by way of guidance only and may be varied to suit the
circumstances of a particular case.

1. All members of the University, and individuals permitted to work in
the University and institutions, have a responsibility to report to the
Registrar or to the Proctors, in the case of complaints relating to staff
or students respectively, any incident of misconduct, whether this has
been witnessed, or is suspected.

2. In the event that further investigation is required, the Registrar or a
person duly authorised on his or her behalf, or the Proctors, as the
case may be, shall set up a small panel to enquire into the allegations.
This shall normally consist of two members namely a member of the
department or faculty with relevant expertise and a member of the
University or a college from outside the department or faculty, again, if
possible, with relevant expertise. Where it is deemed appropriate by the
Registrar, or the Proctors, as the case may be, one member of the panel
may be a person external to the University, but with relevant expertise.
Members of the panel must have no conflict of interest in the case and
must be unbiased. The purpose of the preliminary investigation is to
evaluate the facts of the allegations in order to ascertain whether there
is sufficient evidence amounting to a prima facie case of misconduct.

The Registrar or the person duly authorised on his or her behalf,
or the Proctors as appropriate, shall require the production of such
records as are necessary to enable the investigation to proceed and
shall secure their safe keeping.

3. The respondent shall be informed of the decision to set up the
enquiry panel and of the membership of the panel.

4. The panel may interview both the person making the allegation and
the respondent, and any other persons who may be regarded as
witnesses. Any person attending for interview may be accompanied by
another person.

5. The panel shall prepare a report, setting out the evidence which has
been evaluated, accounts of interviews, if any, and its conclusions. The
respondent shall have an opportunity to comment.

6. In the event that the panel has found no evidence of misconduct, the
complaint shall be dismissed. In the event that the panel concludes that
prima facie evidence of misconduct exists, the report shall be referred
to the appropriate person for action (whether informal or formal) under
the University's relevant disciplinary procedure. In the event that the
panel take the view that the allegations, if proved, would constitute
good cause for dismissal, and the allegations relate to a person subject
to the provisions of Title XVI of the University Statutes, the panel shall
bring the report to the attention of the Registrar under the provisions
of Title XVI, Clause 14(1), or if the allegations relate to a person subject
to the provisions of the University disciplinary procedure for non-
academic staff, the panel shall bring the report to the attention of the
relevant head of department responsible for employing the person. In
the event that allegations relate to a Junior Member, the Proctors may
take further action under the terms of Title XIII.

7. Subject to availability of personnel and to operational demands the
investigation of the panel should normally be completed within twenty
working days of first notification of the allegation to the Registrar or
Proctors as appropriate.

8. In cases where the complaint concerns someone who is not subject to
the University's disciplinary procedure, the panel shall invite the
Registrar to bring the report to the attention of the appropriate
disciplinary body.

9. Where the research is funded in whole or part by an outside grant,
the University shall have regard to the guidance issued by the relevant
funding body and shall ensure that such body is given appropriate and
timely information as to the instigation and progress of an investigation.

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