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Code of Practice on Freedom of Expression in Relation to Meetings or Other Activities on University Premises


This code of practice has been developed to assist staff and students who are involved in the organisation of activities that have the potential to compromise the University’s commitment to freedom of expression within the law and/or the health and wellbeing of staff, students and visitors to the University. It is intended to provide practical advice and guidance to be followed to ensure that activities on University premises that fall within the remit of this code of practice can be given due consideration to ensure that they do not contravene the University’s commitment in respect of freedom of expression and/or its obligations to ensure the health and safety of its community.

1. Durham University values academic freedom and is committed to promoting and positively encouraging free expression and debate amongst its staff, students and visitors.

2. However, it is a fundamental policy of the University, as an academic institution, that on its property and in its activities there should be freedom of expression within the law. The pursuit of knowledge and the exchange of ideas should be conducted within the University in a tolerant manner, and without interference.

3. The University also has a legal duty[1] to take such steps as is reasonably practicable to ensure that freedom of expression within the law is secured for its staff, students and visiting speakers. This duty includes a responsibility to ensure that the use of University premises is not denied to any individual or group on the grounds of the belief or views of that individual or any member of that group or on the grounds of the policy or objectives of the group. The University does not, however, have any obligations to allow meetings to be open to members of the public.

4. This does not mean that the right to freedom of expression is unlimited. There are restrictions, for example, imposed by laws that exist to protect national security and public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of the reputation and rights of others, and to prevent the disclosure of information received in confidence.

5. Freedom of expression has to be set in the context of the University’s values and the values of a democratic and inclusive society. The University expects speakers to respect those values and to be sensitive to its increasingly diverse and inclusive community. The University has to ensure that its staff and students are able to work, study and live in an environment free from unlawful intimidation, harassment or abuse. Hate crime and incitement to commit illegal acts will not be tolerated.

The Code of Practice

6. This Code of Practice applies to all staff and students and any person using the University’s premises to hold a meeting, to distribute written or on-line materials, or undertake any other activity which is covered by this Code.

7. This Code of Practice is issued by, and with the authority of, the Council as governing body of the University with a view to taking reasonable steps to ensure that freedom of expression within the law is secured for members, students and employees of the University and for visiting speakers. It also aims to assist the University in discharging its positive duty under the Equality Act (2010) to promote good relations within the University.


8. The Council authorises the Chief Operating Officer (Registrar) to act on its behalf to ensure as far as is reasonably practicable that all staff and students of the University, and all visiting speakers, comply with the provisions of this Code. The Chief Operating Officer (Registrar) may further delegate his/her authority in general or in particular instances to other members of staff of the University.


Activities and Meetings Which Must be Notified to the Chief Operating Officer (Registrar)

9. Any activity, including but not limited to holding a meeting or a demonstration, or distributing leaflets or other written or on-line material, which is likely to engage the provisions of this Code must be notified to the Chief Operating Officer (Registrar).

10. In considering whether or not to permit an activity to go ahead on its premises, the University shall consider:

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

i) infringe the rights of others, or

ii) discriminate against them.

b) whether the activity in question:

i) constitutes a criminal offence

ii) constitutes a threat to public order or to the health and safety of individuals

iii) incites others other to commit criminal acts, or

iv) is contrary to the civil and human rights of individuals.

11. The second key test is whether adequate arrangements can be made to safeguard the safety of participants in the activity, and other people within the vicinity, and to ensure that public order is maintained.

12. Examples of activities across the Higher Education sector that have either taken place or been stopped which would fall under the jurisdiction of this code of practice are provided in Appendix 1. The list is provided for guidance purposes only and should not be regarded as exhaustive.

13. This code of practice also applies to any person who has previously been prevented from delivering a speech or when the nature or subject of the activity could incite hatred or be considered deliberately obscene or grossly defamatory.

14. Those responsible should also consider whether the possibility of disruption or disorder may arise because of the timing or location of the activity and its coincidence with other local or national occasions or events. In cases of doubt, the Chief Operating Officer (Registrar) should be consulted.

15. The organisers of the event shall ensure that a ‘Principal Organiser[2]’ is appointed who must be a member of staff or student of the University and who will be responsible for ensuring that the organisers comply with the obligations placed upon them under this Code of Practice. If the activity concerned involves a meeting or other type of gathering then they and/or the person responsible for processing the booking of rooms or space are taken to have read and agreed by the provisions of this Code of Practice. The Principal Organiser shall ensure that appropriate information is provided on the booking form regarding the nature and topic of the meeting.

16. The Principal Organiser is required to inform the Chief Operating Officer (Registrar) as far as possible in advance and, in any case at least 14 days in advance of any activity that might reasonably be construed as ‘controversial’. This will allow him/her to ensure that any necessary arrangements are made, if there are reasonable grounds to believe that:

a) The activity may be disrupted due to:

i) The status of the speaker; or

ii) The nature of any subjects to be discussed or contained in written material; or

iii) The views or beliefs (whether or not related to the activity) of any person attending; or

iv) The coincidence of the activity with another activity.

b) The personal safety or property of any person attending, proceeding to or leaving the activity may be at risk by reason of their involvement in the activity; or

c) Intimidation, duress or harassment might be applied to any person in an attempt to prevent their attending the activity; or

d) The activity might be picketed.

Action to be Taken by the Chief Operating Officer (Registrar)

17. The Principal Organiser shall on request provide the Chief Operating Officer (Registrar) with such information as he/she may require. On receiving such information as he/she requires, the Chief Operating Officer (Registrar) shall either:

a) Indicate that he/she does not wish to take any action.

b) Lay down such special conditions as he/she considers necessary for the holding of the event.

c) Indicate that he/she does not consider it possible, within the resources available to the University, for the proposed meeting to take place within the law. Therefore the event is proscribed from taking place.

18. Failure or refusal to observe the Chief Operating Officer (Registrar)'s ruling will result in disciplinary action as noted in paragraph 24 below.

Special Conditions or Arrangements that may be Required

19. The Chief Operating Officer (Registrar) may lay down such special conditions as he/she considers necessary. These may include (but are not limited to):

a) a requirement that the event be ticket only and/or a restriction on the numbers of people attending;

b) that an adequate number of suitable stewards must be available, in addition to any University security staff that the Chief Operating Officer (Registrar) may feel should be present to maintain good order;

c) special arrangements for the chairing of a meeting, and as to the circumstances in which the meeting may or must be terminated prematurely;

d) that the event be restricted to staff and students of the University.

20. In addition, the Chief Operating Officer (Registrar) has discretion to lay down further conditions, if appropriate, after consultation with the police for example, requiring the meeting or activity to be declared public (which would permit a police presence). Alternatively all security arrangements connected with the meeting or activity may be handled by University staff with a "controlling officer" for the occasion.

21. The Chief Operating Officer (Registrar) may require the organisers of the event to meet the reasonable costs incurred by the University in putting in place any special conditions or arrangements.

Arrangements for Booking Rooms

22. Each Booking Authority[3] shall introduce or modify booking forms in order that the attention of organisers of meetings or other activities is drawn to this Code. Each Booking Authority shall be responsible for ensuring that employees who operate room bookings within their jurisdiction are aware of and fulfil their personal responsibilities under this Code.

23. The procedures set out above must be followed by members, students and employees of the University and persons hiring venues in the University in respect of meetings or any other similar activities. They cover the conduct required of all persons in connection with any such meetings or activities.

Infringements of the Code of Practice

24. The Chief Operating Officer (Registrar) shall report to Council on the circumstances of any significant infringements of, and departures from, the provisions of this Code. Infringements of, or departures from, these procedures by employees, will render them liable to disciplinary action. If infringement is by a student they will be liable to disciplinary action and their actions may be regarded as a major offence under the University's Disciplinary Regulations. If infringement is by those hiring accommodation on University premises, there may be an immediate termination of the agreement to use the University premises.

25. If any such actions involve breaches of the law, the University authorities will be ready to assist the prosecuting authorities.


[1] Under the Education Act (No. 2) 1986

[2] If the activity concerned involves the publication and/or distribution of written material that is likely to engage the provisions of this Code, then the ‘’Principal Organiser’’ shall be identified as either the author of the material and/or the person responsible for co-ordinating the dissemination of material on the University’s premises or via its electronic infrastructure.

[3] A Booking Authority are those who are responsible for accepting and monitoring bookings, for a specific room or multiple rooms in university premises. These include Durham Students’ Union, Event Durham, Maintained Colleges and Societies, Academic Departments, Durham Union Society and Student Planning and Assessment.

Appendix 1

Some examples are given below of meetings and events that have either taken place or been stopped across the UK Higher Education sector that would fall under the jurisdiction of this code of practice. It should be noted that this list is provided for illustrative purposes only and is not intended to be exhaustive.

Oxford University

A debate that was to have involved a far-right leader was met with a campaign of student resistance. This opposition, coupled with police advice following a series of racially motivated nail-bombings in London, resulted in the cancellation of the debate.

The University’s Union Society invited a euthanasia campaigner to take part in a debate. The invitation was subsequently withdrawn due to concerns about the ‘’fairness’’ of the debate when other speakers were unwilling to speak alongside him.

Cambridge University

The head of the British National Party, and a fundamentalist Muslim cleric with alleged terrorist connections, were approached to take part in a debate, titled "This house believes that Islam is a threat to the west".

Durham University

Representatives of the British National Party were invited onto campus by the Union Society to take part in a debate. The University gave permission for the debate to go ahead. The NUS objected to the debate and threatened to protest violently if it took place. The event was therefore, cancelled due to threat of violence and as the safety of those taking part could not be guaranteed. As a consequence of the actions of the NUS, Durham Students’ Union withdrew from the organisation for a year.

University of Westminster

The Global Ideas Society at Westminster University hosted a debate titled ‘Economic Future: The Real Solutions’ which featured a senior member of the Hizb-ut-Tahrir Executive Committee, as a speaker. Students had raised concerns about this due to the fact that the NUS lists Hizb-ut-Tahrir as a fascist organisation under their ‘No Platform Policy’.

University of Hertfordshire

The University’s Islamic Society invited a speaker with controversial views on homosexuality to give a talk on campus. The invitation to the speaker was subsequently withdrawn due to concerns expressed by the LGBT Society and due to the fact that the University and the Students’ Union had not been informed of the event and therefore, the correct procedure had not been followed.