The barrister appointed by St Andrews University to investigate the conduct of its rector has withdrawn from the role the day after her acceptance of it was disclosed.
Aswini Weereratne KC was tasked by the Scottish institution to carry out the inquiry following deep divisions that arose after Stella Maris sent a four-page email to students about the war in Gaza. In her email shortly after being elected in October, the rector urged students to campaign for a ceasefire and described Israel as an apartheid and genocidal state.
St Andrews University said on 5 January that Weereratne, of Doughty Street Chambers, had decided to withdraw from the investigation. No reason was given.
Weereratne, vice-chair of the Bar Human Rights Council of England and Wales, was a signatory to three open letters signed by a group of UK lawyers about the war in Gaza. While the letters made reference to Hamas’ attacks on Israel on 7 October, they were overwhelmingly critical of the Jewish state, accusing it of breaching international humanitarian law and the targeting of civilians. The group’s 10-page letter of 26 October, which remained open to signatures after that date and now has more than 1,000 names, called for the UK to stop sales of arms to Israel for fear of serious and deliberate commission of war crimes.
The St Andrews University Court will now seek to appoint what it calls “another suitably qualified individual” to carry out the independent investigation.
At a special meeting on 15 December the university court had decided to appoint an external investigator following calls from students, alumni and others for Maris, 25, to apologise for her email or resign. The role of rector at St Andrews is intended to include pastoral support, but two months into Maris’ election Jewish students at the town, which has no Jewish community, were left feeling isolated. The rector has posted online that she will not interact with their complaints and has suggested she is a victim of racism and misogyny.
Jeremy Dein KC, who has been assisting the Jewish students, commented: “Bearing in mind the sensitivity and gravity of this matter, it is extremely difficult to understand how this appointment came about. What matters now are not just the qualifications of the individual selected, but the overriding need for total independence, impartiality and transparency. This is self-evident and the importance cannot be understated.”
Weereratne and St Andrews University have been asked for comment.
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