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Is freedom of speech restricted on university campuses?

15 November 2017

The Joint Committee on Human Rights holds an evidence session to explore the relationship between freedom of speech and the Prevent duty in universities, and whether free speech is restricted on campuses.

Free speech in Universities

Universities have a statutory duty to ensure free speech.

The importance of this is underscored by Universities Minister Jo Johnson's recent call for the Office of Students, which will take on regulatory responsibility for the sector on April 1 2018, to champion free speech in universities.

Freedom of speech is canvassed as one of the core Public Interest Principles to be secured by that office.

Prevent Duty Guidance

The Prevent Duty Guidance for Higher Education indicates that Higher Education Institutions should not platforms for those encouraging terrorism or inviting support for a proscribed organisation – both of which are illegal.

The Guidance also states that:

"Furthermore, when deciding whether or not to host a particular speaker, RHEBs [Higher Education Bodies] should consider carefully whether the views being expressed, or likely to be expressed, constitute extremist views that risk drawing people into terrorism or are shared by terrorist groups.

In these circumstances the event should not be allowed to proceed except where RHEBs are entirely convinced that such risk can be fully mitigated without cancellation of the event."

European Convention on Human Rights 

Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights provides that:

"Everyone has the right to freedom of expression.

This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers."

The right is not absolute and can be restricted by considerations of national security, public safety, the prevention of disorder or crime or the protection of the reputation and rights of others."


Wednesday 15 November 2017, Committee room 1, Palace of Westminster

At 3.15pm

  • Dr Joanna Williams, Senior Lecturer, Unit for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching, University of Kent
  • Professor Dennis Hayes, Professor of Education, University of Derby
  • Tom Slater, Deputy Editor, Spiked
  • Professor Colin Riordan, President and Vice-Chancellor, Cardiff University.

Further information

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