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Top barrister says NUS’s no-platform policies could be unlawful

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Student petitions to ban university campus talks not compatible with free speech law

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No-platform policies that give students the chance to bar controversial public figures from their universities could be unlawful, a top barrister argues.

Christopher McCall QC (pictured below) — a charity and private client barrister at commercial set Maitland Chambers — made his comments in a confidential 37-page legal opinion, where he argued that the policies may be incompatible with freedom of speech law.

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There is an increasing concern that university culture in modern Britain is becoming dangerously sanctimonious, and in turn is destroying free speech. First there was the Blurred Lines controversy, and then came the — ultimately unsuccessful — ‘Rhodes Must Fall in Oxford’ campaign. Some universities banned The Sun, another banned a T-shirt with Jesus and the prophet Muhammad on it. Universities have undeniably become pretty ban-happy.

More recently, students have tried to use the National Union of Students’ (NUS) no-platform policy to ban well-known figures from speaking on university campuses. Famous examples include controversial feminist author Germaine Greer — who made comments about Caitlyn Jenner than some people considered transphobic — and un-PC Vine ‘celeb’ Dapper Laughs.

While likes of legal commentator David Allen Green have spoken out against this ‘ban culture’, McCall’s comments have now cast doubt on its lawfulness. He has raised concerns about compatibility with s43 of the Education Act 1986, which says:

Every individual and body of persons concerned in the government of any establishment to which this section applies shall take such steps as are reasonably practicable to ensure that freedom of speech within the law is secured for members, students and employees of the establishment and for visiting speakers.

He did say, however, that no-platform policies are legal when applied to members of certain proscribed groups, most obviously terrorists.

His opinion, however, seems to have fallen on deaf ears. The NUS has said that it could see “no reason” to amend its position, so any policy change looks unlikely for now.

10 Comments

Anonymous

No-platforming should be banned. Except where the proposed speaker says things I disagree with

(13)(0)

Anonymous

Why does anyone take the slightest notice of students and their ludicrous bans and campaigns? I couldn’t give a toss what the NUS or Bullshit Uni’s WankSoc thinks. Student politicians and agitators are laughable figures and nothing they say matters.

(16)(0)

Anonymous

Because they are driving the agenda in universities, they are the most vocal. The vast majority of uni students don’t give a toss, but they also don’t speak up.

(5)(0)

Anonymous

Just end university unions. Never did anything for me (a gay, disabled minority student), and just made my university fees higher than what it should have been.

(5)(2)

Anonymous

But I need my safe space! I’m going to post about this on my social justice warrior tumbler.

(6)(0)

Anonymous

Can’t be that confidential if you are writing an article about it.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

The new NUS president is an apologist for Isis, who cares what they think.

(6)(0)

Anon.

I actually think that giving contentious speakers a platform is an excellent idea.

I’m specifically referring to Germaine Greer’s statement that just because a man ‘looped off his d*** and wore a dress it still doesn’t make him a woman’.

These comments were highly offensive to the transgender community (especially coming from a pioneering feminist), but they did open up uncomfortable avenues of discourse.

I suspect that many fail to understand the biology and psychology behind wishing to change genders. Transgender males are still ‘men without a penis’ as opposed to ‘women’. But Greer’s comments prompted eminent psychiatrists and doctors to publicly state that Gender Identity Disorder was a very real medical condition, and ought to be treated as such.

While I accept that the transgender community still face much discrimination, official recognition is important to widespread acceptance. It wasn’t so long ago that depression was treated in the same way, and it is now legally classed as a disability.

As a student myself, our new-found independence has prompted us to become very, very opinionated (sometimes without a great deal of critical thinking). A lot of my friends have become ‘Social Justice Warriors’, and I go to a clever University.

I think allowing that such speakers to come will most definitely stir up vocal students. This means more publicity, and this publicity can do a great deal in giving the general population clarity on certain issues.

(4)(3)

Anonymous

I found student politics at Liverpool to be a real turn off. Guild Council meetings, which should really have been about student issues (fees, mental health, housing, sexual health etc) were always dominated by pointless resolutions about Israel/Palestine and trying to ban various things from the Guild that were offensive to persons of a certain very sensitive minority religion.

(4)(0)

Lord Lyle of Monster Raving Loony

O no one knows why loony student politics matter?

Money. Donors withdraw their money. The more loony the Uni the more money it looses and rank status it drops.

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