Legal professor LOSES judicial review challenging cancellation of controversial Southampton Law School conference

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By Katie King on

High Court judge rules that academic freedom was not at stake


A law professor determined to run a controversial academic conference about the legitimacy of Israel has lost his legal battle against the university that refused to put it on.

Professor Oren Ben-Dor sought to argue that principles of ‘academic freedom’ were at stake but Mrs Justice Whipple, sitting in the London High Court, disagreed. She found that “there is no large principle at stake here” and that the application to seek judicial review was “unarguable”.

The professor brought a legal challenge against Southampton University because of their handling of a proposed conference about the existence of Israel, titled ‘International Law and the State of Israel: Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism’.

Last year, the Russell Group university pulled the conference because of fears about security. This year, Ben-Dor — along with engineering professor and fellow conference organiser Suleiman Sharkh — was given the green light to put on the event, but only on the condition that they foot £25,000 in security costs.

Following a successful crowdfunding campaign, Ben-Dor, himself from Israel, and Sharkh were granted permission to judicially review the uni’s decisions, on the grounds that academic freedom was at stake.

But, unfortunately for them, the challenges have been rejected. The High Court judge ruled that:

From all that I have seen in this case, I believe that freedom of expression and freedom of assembly are alive and well at Southampton University

The decisions taken by the university were, she said:

motivated by well-founded concerns for the safety of people and property, and exemplify good and responsible decision-making by the (university’s) officers.


Legal academic granted permission to judicially review cancellation of controversial Southampton Law School conference [Legal Cheek]