The Office of the University Advocate is established by the Code of Conduct enacted by the Academic Council of the University of Limerick.
The Code of Conduct can be found in the Handbook of Academic Regulations & Procedures which is located on the UL Policy Hub
Under the Code of Conduct, the role of the University Advocate is as follows:
2.2 All complaints shall, in the first instance, be referred to a University Advocate, who shall:
(i) Consider a complaint and decide if there is a case to answer.
(ii) Categorise a complaint as a major or minor offence.
(iii) Refer a minor offence to the Minor Offences Committee.
(iv) Refer a major offence to the Discipline Committee.
(v) Prosecute all cases in the disciplinary process.
The jurisdiction of the University Advocate is currently limited to members of the Campus Community, which is defined as follows:
1.1 This Code of Conduct and the matters contained therein shall govern the conduct of and apply to all persons studying, whether whole-time, part-time or otherwise, in the University of Limerick and such persons shall thereafter be referred to as the Campus Community.
The University Advocates have been appointed by the President of the University of Limerick.
The current University Advocates are Dr Laura Donnellan, Professor Mike Hinchey and Ms Shirley Ryan who were appointed on 20th April 2021. (Please note that the University Advocates should not be contacted directly. Contact should be made via the Complaint, Discipline & Vetting Unit at email: ULDiscipline@ul.ie or by submission of an Official Internal/External complaint form as appropriate. Link to forms can be found in How to make a complaint section.
Role of the Advocate
The University Advocate is an independent officer who acts at all times to vigorously protect and vindicate the interests of the University.
The role of the University Advocate is to investigate and prosecute complaints about alleged violations of the Code of Conduct of the University.
The office of the University Advocate is guided by a number of key principles:
- A robust investigation and prosecution of violations of the Code of Conduct using the over-riding principle of the need to vindicate the interests of the University of Limerick.
- A clear separation of function between the office of the University Advocate and the adjudicative and administrative bodies of the University ensuring prosecutorial independence.
- Efficient and verifiable case management.
- Transparency and accountability within the limits of the autonomy of the office.
The best interests of the University include not merely faculty and management of the University but also students of the University, past, present and future, and other members of the University community.
The University Advocate's involvement in the disciplinary process of the University can be divided into three distinct elements:
Any individual or organization may make a complaint to the University Advocate: there is no requirement that the individual or organization making the complaint be a student, faculty or staff member of the University.
However, the University Advocate has limited jurisdiction and may only investigate complaints made against a member of the University Community as defined in the Code of Conduct. For the most part, the jurisdiction of the University Advocate is therefore limited to complaints made against students of the University.
On receipt of a complaint, the University Advocate will first establish whether or not they have jurisdiction. If they do not have jurisdiction they will refer the person or organization making the complaint to the appropriate authority within the University.
Following receipt of a complaint, or on the Advocate's own initiative, a file will be created. The Advocate will undertake such investigations and procure such evidence as he feels necessary to make a proper determination of the case.
Often this investigation will involve interviewing the person or organization who made the complaint, any potential witnesses, and a review of relevant documentary evidence.
The University Advocate will then review the file and may decide
- The facts do not disclose any violation of the Code of Conduct and close the file
- There is an arguable case that the Code has been violated.
In the event of the latter, the Advocate will usually, although is not required to, ask the person against whom a complaint has been received, to attend a meeting with him. The purpose of this meeting is to complete the investigation by hearing from all the sides involved.
Anyone who attends this meeting will be formally cautioned under the Code of Conduct (s.2.3) before it proceeds. No one is obliged to attend this meeting, and no adverse inference will be drawn from refusing to attend the meeting. However, the issue will almost inevitably then have to be forwarded to a full hearing of the Discipline Committee.
Meeting with the Advocate may clarify that no violation of the Code has occurred or may result in the matter being disposed of by way of a voluntary agreement with the Advocate which protects the interests of the University and is in accordance with the justice of the case.
If following this meeting the Advocate is of the opinion that the Code has been violated and that there is sufficient evidence to prove that before either the Minor Offences or Discipline Committee, the file will be listed for hearing unless a voluntary agreement has been entered into.
If a voluntary agreement is entered into between the University Advocate and the student, then the issue may, in certain circumstances be presented for mention to the Discipline Committee but the student will not be expected to appear at such a hearing.
Once a file is listed for hearing either by the Minor Offences Committee or the Discipline Committee, the Advocate will assume the role of prosecutor. The Advocate is tasked with presenting the University's case to the relevant committee with sufficient evidence to establish that there has been a breach of the Code. If the Advocate is successful, he shall be responsible for seeking a sanction which he considers appropriate to protect the interests of the University. If a sanction is imposed the Advocate is responsible for ensuring that it has been fully complied with.
If the verdict of either committee is appealed by the student, the Advocate is responsible for defending that appeal in the Appeals Committee, irrespective of whether the verdict at the Minor Offences or Discipline Committee was that which the Advocate originally sought.
It is not open to the Advocate to appeal from a decision of the Discipline Committee.
The conduct of the disciplinary hearing is a matter for the relevant committee. The Advocate has no special position, place or relationship with either committee. As prosecutor, the Advocate is in exactly the same position of the defence. The Advocate is not present for deliberations of either committee.
If you require further information on the conduct of disciplinary hearings, please refer to the Discipline Committee information.
It means that the University Advocate is investigating an allegation that you may have been involved in a breach of the Code of Conduct. At this stage, it is merely an allegation and many allegations can be resolved swiftly. However, it is the function of the University Advocate to investigate all allegations and this may require you to meet with the Advocate.
No. The meeting is a preliminary meeting designed to enable a full investigation to take place. It is an information gathering exercise to enable the Advocate to form an opinion as to how the case can be disposed of.
Remember, however, in accordance with the rules of the Code of Conduct, you should be in possession of your valid student ID card and the Advocate will ask you to provide identification so that they can be sure that you are the person against whom the allegation has been made.
The Advocate is required under the Code of Conduct to caution you in the event that the issue proceeds to a full hearing at one of the University adjudicative bodies such as the Discipline Committee or the Appeal Committee. The caution allows the Advocate to continue their investigation so long as you voluntarily consent to the meeting going ahead. If you do not consent, then the Advocate may have to convene a full hearing of the relevant Committee to have the case disposed of.
Agreeing to continue the meeting does not mean that you admit the allegation that is being made.
You will be given an opportunity to present your side of the story. You should be as truthful as possible and not leave out any details, no matter how insignificant that you think they are. The task of the Advocate at this point is to investigate all the facts and they want to hear your version. They will normally ask questions to clarify anything that they are unclear on. Again, it is in your interest to answer as fully and truthfully as possible all such questions.
At the conclusion of the meeting, the Advocate will inform you that they are either ready to make a determination of the case at that point in time or that they need to continue their investigation. If they indicate that they will need to continue their investigation, the meeting will terminate and you may be called back for a subsequent meeting where the Advocate's determination will be made known to you.
In many cases, because there is no dispute on the facts, the Advocate may be in a position to make a determination at the end of the meeting. There are three possible outcomes:
- No case to answer: The Advocate may determine that no breach of the Code of Conduct has occurred in which case the meeting will terminate and that will be an end to the matter.
- Proceed to Discipline: The Advocate may be of the view that the Code of Conduct has been breached and that the matter will have to be referred to the appropriate committee. They will inform you that the disciplinary process will commence and advise you as to what to expect next. You can also refer to the relevant website of the Discipline Committee if that is appropriate.
- Voluntary Agreement: The Advocate may be of the view that the Code of Conduct has been breached but that the matter can be resolved by way of a Voluntary Agreement between you and the Advocate. This will normally arise where you admit that you have breached the Code of Conduct and are willing to submit to an agreed sanction. The Advocate will lay out your options clearly and specify what they believe to be an appropriate sanction. You will then be given a period of time to reflect on this and decide whether you wish to accept this voluntary agreement or not. If you choose not to accept the voluntary agreement, then the Advocate will commence proceedings before the Disciplinary process where they will act as a prosecutor on behalf of the University. If you choose to accept the Voluntary Agreement, you need to let the Advocate know and they will explain how the agreement is to be met.
Naturally, this will vary from case to case and will depend on all the individual circumstances. However, the sanctions that you agree to will not go beyond the permissible sanctions under the Code of Conduct.
No. A voluntary agreement means that you do not have to attend at a Discipline Committee.
In addition to the originally alleged violation of the Code of Conduct, you will now be in breach of the Code of Conduct regarding your failure to abide by the voluntary agreement and the Advocate will commence the disciplinary process. You should also note that under the Code of Conduct you will not graduate from the University until you have satisfactorily complied with any voluntary agreement that you may have entered into with the Advocate.
It is the function of the Office of the Provost & Deputy President to monitor compliance with all sanctions under the Code, including voluntary agreements. However, failure to abide by a sanction (including those under a voluntary agreement) is a breach of the Code which will be dealt with by the Advocate.
The Office of the Advocates is supported by the Complaints, Discipline & Vetting Unit.
Internal/External Complaint Forms regarding potential breaches of the UL Code of Conduct should be submitted to: CDV Unit, Plassey House, University of Limerick, Limerick V94 T9PX, Ireland.
Contact email: ULDiscipline@ul.ie