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Policies and documents

Freedom of speech code of practice

Securing freedom of speech for students, staff and visiting speakers.

The purpose of this Code of Practice is to enable the University to meet its duties under Section 43 of the Education (No. 2) Act 1986 to take all reasonably practicable steps to ensure that freedom of speech within the law is secured for students and staff of the University and for visiting speakers regarding the organisation of meetings and other activities on University premises.

It sets out the principles and procedures to be followed by University staff and students and by any other party using or seeking to use University premises for a meeting or activity, and the conduct required in respect of any such meeting or activity. The same principles apply to off-campus activities held in the University’s name and to the promotion on campus of off-campus activities.

For the purposes of this Code, reference to University premises includes premises occupied by YSJU Students’ Union.

Freedom of Speech on Campus (PDF, 0.4MB)

a. Freedom of speech is a fundamental right and is protected under the Human Rights Act 1998. Higher Education Institutions play an important role in enabling students and staff “to express, encounter, negotiate and enjoy difference in a climate of respect and learning”. The University has a particular obligation to take such steps as are reasonably practicable to ensure that freedom of speech within the law is secured. This includes a duty to ensure that the use of University premises is not denied to an individual or group based on their beliefs, views, policy or objectives.

b. Freedom of speech is not, however, an absolute right. The University is not required to provide a platform for views which are contrary to the civil or criminal law. It is mindful of its other legal obligations which may require it to have regard to what is said on its premises. For example, its duty to ensure that staff, students and others who engage with the institution are protected from discrimination, harassment and victimisation, and that good relations between individuals and groups are facilitated. The University also has due regard for the need to ensure security and its statutory duty to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism.

c. In balancing its responsibilities in terms of both ensuring freedom of speech and academic freedom, and also protecting student and staff welfare, the University will act reasonably and proportionately and in accordance with the law.

d. The University’s Equality, Diversity and Human Rights Policy Statement (PDF, 0.1MB) sets out the University’s commitment to promoting equality, diversity and human rights, and to sustaining an environment which is free from all forms of unfair treatment, discrimination and harassment for all those who study, work and engage with the institution.

e. Staff and students are expected to adhere to the University’s rules on the on the use of information communication technology. These prohibit the creation, display, production or circulation of material which is illegal or likely to cause offence. Students are also bound by the University Code of Discipline and staff by the .

f. The procedure below makes particular provision for room bookings for events (e.g., conferences, public lectures and meetings) with external speakers. The principles of this Code may also be invoked in other situations where freedom of speech needs to be balanced against a potential infringement of the law and/or of the rights of others.

a. Anyone seeking to use University premises for an event involving an external speaker is required to apply to the Conference and Events team, using the relevant online form. The person submitting the form is the Event Organiser for the purposes of this Code, unless otherwise agreed with the University.

b. The Conference and Events team will undertake an initial risk assessment. If the Conference and Events team forms the view that concerns arise under this Code, following consultation with the Director the matter will be referred to the Decision-Maker. The Decision-Maker will normally be the University Secretary. This role may be delegated to another member of staff of appropriate seniority.

c. The Decision-Maker may consult relevant colleagues such as the institutional Prevent Lead, the Equality & Diversity Adviser, campus security, the Students’ Union or others. The Decision-Maker may also consult relevant external organisations, such as the police and the Prevent Lead at York City Council. Where relevant and feasible, the Decision-Maker may seek input from relevant communities and organisations.

d. Where an incident with reputational impact arises or seems likely to arise, the University’s Major Incident Plan will be invoked if appropriate.

e. The Decision-Maker’s decision may be challenged by an appeal to the Vice Chancellor, whose decision is final. Any appeal should be made in writing within five working days of the original decision.

f. Reports on any actions taken by the Decision-Maker under this Code of Practice will be made annually to Academic Board and Board of Governors. A brief report on any refusal of an event, appeal against a decision of the Decision-Maker or intervention during an event relating to this Code of Practice will be reported to Academic Board and Board of Governors at the next available opportunity.

g. Should, despite all safeguards put in place, an incident arise during an event that is in breach of this Code of Practice and which is regarded as serious by the University (e.g. has the potential to constitute a serious reputational risk and/or warrant investigation by the Decision-Maker and notification to the Board of Governors), then this will be notified to the Office for Students as soon as possible by the Decision-Maker. The Office for Students regards terrorism-related incidents as serious reportable incidents.

a. The following procedure applies to situations where the University is considering whether to permit its premises to be used for a particular event.

The University will consider whether the activity in question:

  • constitutes a criminal offence
  • constitutes a threat to public order or to the health and safety of individuals
  • incites others to commit criminal acts, or
  • breaches the rights of others.

And whether the views or ideas to be put forward (or the manner of their expression):

  • infringe the rights of others
  • are likely to draw others into terrorism
  • discriminate against groups or members of groups.

b. The University is entitled to restrict a particular activity or event if it deems that it is likely to give rise to an environment in which people will experience - or could reasonably fear - harassment, intimidation, verbal abuse or violence, particularly because of their age, disability, gender identity, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex or sexuality. It will also restrict an activity or event if it deems that the views being expressed or likely to be expressed constitute extremist views that risk drawing people into terrorism or are shared by terrorist groups.

c. In reaching its decision, the University will take into account whether adequate arrangements can be made to mitigate risk, safeguard the safety of participants in the event and other people within the vicinity, and to ensure that public order is maintained. This includes ensuring that, where any event is being allowed to proceed, speakers with extremist views are challenged with opposing views as part of that same event, rather than in a separate forum.

a. At least ten working days before any planned event using outside speakers, the Event Organiser will submit a . If the Conference and Events team identifies that any concerns arise under this Code, it forwards the booking request to the Decision-Maker following consultation with the Director. Information about the nature of the concerns will be provided in writing at this point. The Conference and Events team and the Decision-Maker may seek further information from the Event Organiser. The Decision-Maker shall make a decision on whether to accept the booking, and what conditions are attached to the acceptance. This will be communicated in writing to the Event Organiser.

b. An appeal against the rulings of the Decision-Maker may be made to the Vice Chancellor, whose decision shall be final. Any appeal must be submitted in writing within five working days of the original decision. An appeal may be made either by:

  • the Event Organiser, where permission to use University premises has been declined, or where the Event Organiser believes that the conditions attached to permission are unreasonable;
  • by any other person who believes that concerns arise under this Code.

c. The event must not be advertised until such time as permission to hold the event has been granted.

d. The Event Organiser is responsible personally for ensuring that the event does not break the law, lead to discrimination, harassment or victimisation, breach the rights of any individual, or harm good relations on campus. The University reserves the right to refuse or withdraw access to its premises for any event where these principles are likely to be breached. The University reserves the right to attend and monitor any event on its premises and if necessary at any time, intervene and close an event and request all persons to leave its premises.

e. Where permission to hold an event is granted, conditions may be imposed either by the Conference and Events team or the Decision-Maker. Such conditions may include those considered necessary to secure fulfilment of the University’s statutory responsibilities concerning the protection of free speech within the law and other legal requirements. The Event Organiser is personally responsible for ensuring adherence to any conditions set by the University in respect of an event. Examples of such conditions are:

  1. that tickets be issued;
  2. that members of University or Students’ Union security staff are to be present to maintain safety and order;
  3. that University staff be responsible for all security arrangements connected with the meeting;
  4. that the Event Organiser is responsible for ensuring the presence of an adequate number of stewards (whose identity has been notified to the Decision-Maker in advance of the meeting and accepted by the Decision-Maker as appropriate)
  5. that the meeting be held in a venue other than that proposed by the organisers;
  6. conditions regarding the admission or exclusion of press, television or broadcasting personnel, and, subject to licensing law, the sale or consumption of alcohol within the premises;
  7. conditions relating to the chairing of the meeting, and as to the circumstances in which the meeting may or must be terminated prematurely;
  8. that the designated meeting or activity be declared 'public' or 'private';
  9. that the meeting be structured as a debate so that alternate views are also represented;
  10. that the organiser meet any additional security costs necessitated by the event and or any costs arising from the event (e.g. cleaning, repairs). A security bond may be required in advance;
  11. that all written materials provided in relation to the event, including its promotion, be provided in English;
  12. that nothing in the preparations for or conduct of a meeting or activity infringes the law e.g., by conduct likely to cause a breach of the peace or incitement to illegal acts;
  13. that no gender segregation will be applied in relation to seating. It should be noted that in the context of the University’s aim to create an inclusive environment, the encouragement of gender segregation is not permitted at events held on University or Students’ Union premises. This does not exclude the possibility of gender segregation during collective religious worship, which is not subject to equality law. There are some further exemptions under the Equality Act: for example, associations such as student societies may restrict their membership (and events) to those with a protected characteristic such as gender or religious belief.

This is a non-exhaustive list.

f. The Decision-Maker may at any time invite the Police to be present at any meeting on University premises. Where concerns arise that an offence has been committed relating to an event held on University premises, the University will assist with the police investigation.

g. The Chair of the meeting has a responsibility to take all reasonable measures to ensure that both audience and speakers act in accordance with the law during the meeting. In cases of unlawful conduct, the Chair will give appropriate warnings and, in the case of continuing, repeated or particularly serious unlawful conduct, he or she will require the person(s) to withdraw, or arrange for them to be removed by the stewards or security staff.

h. No article or objects may be taken inside the meeting room in circumstances likely to lead to injury or damage.

The Decision-maker shall provide an annual report to the Strategic Leadership Team on the application of this Code.