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Queen's University


University knowingly aids Student union to fire unlawfully two black African students


Mr. Anyanmu and Mr. Ebuzeme were students of South Bank University and full-time salaried officers of the South Bank Student Union. Soon after starting their one-year contract with the student union in August 1995, the university began to question their conduct as union  trustees. Pending disciplinary hearings, it suspended the students in February and expelled them one month later.  This prevented the students from entering any building on campus, including the student union building where they were employed. In April, the Student Union terminated their employment, six months before the end of their contract. The students' case went through five judiciary bodies before being sent back to an Employment Tribunal by the House of Lords.

The students went to County Court to apply for a judicial review of the university's proceedings against them.  When their application at County Court failed, the students took their complaint to an Employment Tribunal (ET). They claimed that the student union discriminated against them on the ground of race when it fired them, and that the university discriminated against them on the ground of race when it knowingly aided the union to dismiss them. (by suspending and expelling them) a When their claim was dismissed, on the basis that it was an abuse of process as there had previously been an unsuccessful application for judicial review relating to the case, the students appealed to an Employment Appeals Tribunal, who ruled in their favor. The university appealed this decision to an Appeals Court who ruled in their favor. This decision was made on a technical point of law - the narrow definition of the word "aid" as "help". The university claimed, and the Appeals Court agreed, that if the facts put forth by the students were true, then university could not be considered a secondary player who "helped" the union fire the students. If anything, it was a prime mover who obliged the union to discriminated against them. Therefore, the university could not be held responsible for "knowingly aiding" a person to commit discrimination. The students appealed this decision to the House of Lords, who ruled that the students had a case with good prospects of success and send it back for a fresh hearing at an Employment Tribunal.

(Anyanwu & Another v South Bank Student Union &South Bank University [2001] IRLR 305, HL).


  1. Did the Appeal Courts err in its interpretation of the term "knowingly aids"?
  2. Did the university "knowingly aid" the union dismiss the students contrary to Section 33 of the RRA?


  1. yes
  2. Very likely


  1. The Appeals Court interpreted the term "knowingly aids" to mean the helpful intervention of a secondary player in the act of discrimination committed by a prime mover. The House of Lords interpreted the term to mean, simply, the act of a person who assists, co-operates or collaborates with another person. They ruled that classifying parties into "prime movers" and "secondary players" was not useful.   
  2. All judges believed that the appellants had an arguable case under section 33 of the Act. One said, and the others concurred, that "[fairly] considered the [appellant's case] conveys, or is capable of conveying, that the appellants allege, inter alia, that the university in order to achieve the dismissal of the appellants assisted the student union, or cooperated with it, by making allegations against the appellants to the student union to the effect that the appellants were involved in irregularities in connection with union funds and were guilty of intimidation of union staff.(9).

Kingston, Ontario, Canada. K7L 3N6. 613.533.2000