Equality Act claims by students against professional “qualifications bodies” normally go to the employment tribunal, but a university is excluded from being a qualifications body. The Court of Appeal held that a student’s claim against the University of Law, even in respect of a professional solicitors exam, therefore had to go to a county court rather than an employment tribunal. If a body is the governing body of a university, this displaces its status as a qualifications body. A university cannot be a qualifications body for part of its activities.
 EWCA Civ 1526, Court of Appeal. Full decision www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2020/1526.html
The claimant, a student at the University of Law, had brought an Equality Act claim against it in the employment tribunal.
The Court of Appeal held that the University of Law (previously the “College of Law”) was a university, so that the claimant could not bring his claim in the employment tribunal, only in the County Court.
The Court of Appeal held that if a body is the governing body of a university, this displaces its status as a qualifications body (see Professional exam bodies>Universities). The court rejected an argument – based on “in so far as” in s.54(4) EqA – that a body is excluded from being a qualifications body only “to the extent that” it is a university. If a body could be both a university and a qualifications body, one would have to identify in which respects it was acting as one rather than the other. The degree course for which the claimant was studying included seven modules which were compulsory to meet the requirements of the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s Legal Practice Course, and two additional modules which were not. It would be chaotic if the claimant had to divide his complaints by reference to particular modules, claiming in relation to the seven compulsory modules in the employment tribunal and at the same time claiming in the County Court relating to the rest.
Solicitors Regulation Authority
In Burke v College of Law, Court of Appeal, 2012, an employment tribunal had held that the “College of Law” was a qualifications body. However that decision was not appealed, and was made under previous legislation. As well as the College of Law, the Burke case involved the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) which, said the Court of Appeal in Nwabueze, “was and is a qualifications body rather than a university or higher education institution”.
The Supreme refused permission to appeal (supremecourt.uk), in July 2021.
For more see Professional exam bodies>Universities.