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Counter-Terrorism & Security Act 2015 
GOOD 
PRACTICE 
GUIDE
FOR SCOTTISH 
HIGHER EDUCATION  
INSTITUTIONS
Prepared by the Higher Education Prevent Working Group, 
June 2015

1. Introduction
 
1.1  
Scottish higher education institutions (HEIs) have a statutory duty, in terms of the Counter-Terrorism &    
 
 
 
 
Security Act 2015, ‘to have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism’. The  
 
 
 
 
nature of the statutory duty is explained in Annex 1, which is the statutory guidance issued to accompany the    
 
  Act.
  
 
1.2  
It is the responsibility of each HEI to determine what measures it will take to address this statutory duty. This  
 
 
 
 
Good Practice Guide has been prepared in order to assist the HEIs in deciding what measures are  
 
 
 
 
 
appropriate and, in doing so, to encourage the adoption of consistent good practice across the Scottish higher    
 
 
 
education sector, taking account of local needs and of institutional structures and culture.
 
1.3  
Common to all Scotland’s higher education institutions is a commitment to academic freedom and freedom of  
 
 
 
 
expression. Indeed, higher education plays an essential societal role in providing a culture where challenging and  
 
 
 
controversial views may be expressed. While recognising their responsibility to address the statutory duty, the    
 
 
 
Scottish HEIs are committed to supporting freedom of expression within the law. 
 
1.4  
The Good Practice Guide has been compiled by the Higher Education Prevent Working Group, which will keep it  
 
 
 
under regular ongoing review, informed by examples of good practice from across Scotland. 
2.  The Higher Education Prevent Working Group
 
2.1  
The Higher Education Prevent Working Group was established by the Scottish University Secretaries in February  
 
 
 
2015. It reports to the Secretaries Group.
 
2.2  
The Remit of the Working Group is:
 
• 
To develop guidance to assist the Scottish universities in meeting their statutory duty per the Counter- 
 
 
Terrorism & Security Act 2015; and
• 
To be a forum for sharing good practice in addressing the statutory duty.
 
2.3  
Membership of the Working Group is:
• 
one member from each Scottish HEI, as nominated by the University Secretary or equivalent;
• 
in addition, four members nominated by AUCSO (the Association of University Chief Security Officers); and
• 
the Head of the Scottish Preventing Violent Extremism Unit.
 
 
 
In addition, representatives of NUS Scotland and UCU Scotland attend the Working Group by invitation.
 
 
 
The convener of the Working Group is a University Secretary, nominated by the Scottish Secretaries Group.   
 
 
 
The convener represents the sector as a member of the national multi-agency Prevent sub-group.
 
2.4  
Annex 2 shows the membership of the HE Prevent Working Group in June 2015, the date on which this Good    
 
 
 
Practice Guide was published.
3.  Managing the Implementation of Good Practice
 
3.1  
It is essential, in order for the statutory duty to be addressed effectively, that a senior manager in each institution  
 
 
 
is responsible for implementation, and for observing the Good Practice guidance contained in this document.
 
3.2  
In each HEI, the University Secretary or equivalent should be responsible for implementation, and also for  
 
 
 
 
ensuring that the HEI participates at an appropriate level in local multi-agency CONTEST groups.  S/he will be    
 
 
 
supported in this role by the institutional member of the HE Prevent Working Group.
 
3.3  
Each HEI should establish, or identify an existing high-level group (referred to below as the ‘University Prevent    
 
 
 
Group’) to assume operational responsibility in this area. This will be a small group of senior staff, convened, for  
 
 
 
example, by the University Secretary, that is responsible for:
 
  
 
  3.3.1   maintaining a shared awareness and understanding of the risks of radicalisation within the campus  
 
 
   
community;
 
  3.3.2   communicating to relevant staff the requirements and importance of the statutory duty;

 
  3.3.3   ensuring that the statutory duty is addressed effectively; and
 
  
 
  3.3.4   making decisions on sensitive matters that may arise in relation to Counter-Terrorism and Security.  
 
 
   
Examples 
are:
• 
deciding what action to take where concerns are raised that a member of the campus community may  
 
be being drawn into terrorism; or
• 
deciding whether to allow a controversial speaker to visit the campus, and on what conditions.
 
 
Membership of this group should include: the University Secretary, or equivalent; the HE Prevent WG member, a  
 
senior  manager responsibility for campus security and a senior member of academic staff. Other participants should  
 
be  co-opted as required for their specific knowledge. The group will be responsible, through its convener, to the  
 
 
governing body.
4.  Guidance on Staff Training
 
4.1  
The statutory guidance in the Counter-Terrorism & Security Act states that:
• 
‘Institutions should give relevant staff sufficient training to be able to recognise vulnerability to being drawn into  
 
terrorism, and be aware of what action to take.’
 
4.2  
To address this requirement, each HEI will identify those roles within the institution for which training is relevant,  
 
 
 
and they will make arrangements for the postholders to receive relevant training.  They will be assisted in this  
 
 
 
 
by the work of the HE Prevent Working Group, which will organise regional and Scotland-wide training events and  
 
 
 
make recommendations on suitable training materials.
 
4.3  
Relevant postholders will fall into two categories:
 
  4.3.1   Staff who have a management role; either in the provision of welfare advice and support to students,  
 
 
 
 
 
 
or in the oversight of security on campus.  For those staff, the HE Prevent Working Group will:
• 
arrange inter-institutional training events, in which all relevant staff will be expected to participate; and
• 
review available training materials on a continuing basis, and recommend the material that appears    
 
best-suited to this group of staff.
 
  4.3.2   Staff who do not have a management role, but who ought to have a general understanding of the statutory  
 
 
 
 
 
duty and the way in which it impacts on their institution. The HE Prevent Working Group will  
 
 
 
        recommend to HEIs relevant briefing material, including on-line material, that should be made available to  
 
 
 
 
 
these staff as part of their regular induction and training.
 
4.4  
Staff referred to in 4.3.2 above will be employed in a range of functions, as: academic advisors, campus security  
 
    officers, equality & diversity officers, events organisers, health & safety officers, HR managers, interfaith  
 
 
    chaplains, IT services officers, media/communications officers, student residence managers, student counsellors.  
 
4.5  
Staff training will include guidance on information sharing (see Section 8 below).
5.  Guidance on Safety Online
 
5.1  
Every HEI must have a policy on the acceptable use of IT facilities and, as a condition of using these facilities, all  
 
 
 
users must explicitly agree to observe the policy. 
 
5.2  
The policy should make specific reference to the institution’s statutory Counter-Terrorism duty.  
 
5.3  
The IT regulations should state that the HEI may monitor IT use, in order to ensure that this use is compliant with  
 
 
 
the law and with the University’s acceptable use policy.
 
5.4  
Where, in the course of monitoring the use of IT facilities, a concern is identified regarding access to terrorism-   
 
 
 
related material by a member of staff or a student, this should be reported to the University Secretary, who should  
 
 
 
decide on appropriate action in consultation with the members of the University Prevent Group (3.3 above).
 
5.5  
Web filtering is a tool that may be used as a means of monitoring access, whereby visits to websites that breach  
 
 
 
policy are logged but access is granted, or as a means of denying access to websites that breach policy.

 
  To date, Scottish HEIs have been reluctant to adopt a policy of web filtering, in view of the potential negative impact  
 
 
on  academic research.  It would be advisable for the institution to take its lead in this area from the Higher Education  
 
  IT Directors in Scotland group (HEIDS), which has kept the topic under review and which, if web filtering were  
 
 
  considered appropriate by an HEI, could advise on the most appropriate filtering tool
 
  If web filtering is applied by the institution, then staff and students must be informed of this. 
 
5.6  
A member of staff or a student may wish to access terrorism-related material a part of a legitimate piece of  
 
 
 
 
academic research.  In this situation, the institution should follow the guidance contained in Universities UK’s  
 
 
  guidance 
on 
‘Oversight of security-sensitive research material in UK universities’ (Annex 3). In particular:
• 
ethical approval for the research must be obtained through the HEI’s established Ethics approval process;
• 
xplicit approval must also be obtained from the member of staff’s academic line-manager; and
• 
robust central storage arrangements must be put in place so that the material may be accessed only by  
 
 
the relevant member of academic staff.
6.  Guidance on Management of Speakers at Events
 
6.1  
The statutory guidance requires institutions to have in place policies and procedures for the management of  
 
 
 
 
speakers and events.
 
6.2  
Freedom of speech within the law is fundamental to the work of an institution of higher education. Policies and    
 
 
 
procedures on the management of speakers and events must recognise this, in the way they are framed and  
 
 
 
 
in the way they are implemented. 
 
6.3  
While upholding the fundamental importance of freedom of speech, institutions may nevertheless require to place  
 
 
 
conditions on certain speakers or events, or indeed to refuse to allow them on campus. This should be done only  
 
 
 
in exceptional circumstances, and where the institution, having considered carefully the available  
 
 
 
 
 
information, believes that there is a serious risk that the speaker or event will breach the law and/or will pose a    
 
    significant risk to the wellbeing of students, staff or visitors.
 
6.4  
Procedures for the management of speakers and events must:
• 
clarify that the organisers of events are responsible for assisting the institution in addressing its statutory duty;
• 
establish clearly who has authority for agreeing to the provision of campus accommodation for a speaker or    
 event;
• 
encompass all activities taking place on the campus, whether organised by institutional managers, by other    
 
members of staff, by students, or by a third party;
• 
include arrangements for managing any institutional events that are run by the institution but housed in  
 
 
external premises;
• 
include a clear protocol for escalating decisions to senior staff where they are controversial or difficult;
• 
require decisions on controversial speakers and events to be made by the University Prevent Group, to be    
 
articulated and recorded clearly, and to be made in relation to an established set of criteria;
• 
address the need to ensure that speakers on campus are not prevented, by aggressive or intimidating  
 
 
behaviour, from communicating with their audience;
• 
require that the senior manager responsible for campus security should participate in decisions on    
 
 
controversial speakers and events, and should liaise with the Police where appropriate.
• 
involve effective cooperation with the student union.
 
6.5  
Through AUCSO (Association of University Chief Security Officers), HEIs should share their experience in the    
 
 
 
management of controversial speakers and events. 
 
6.6  
Annex 4 is UK-wide guidance on external speakers, as prepared by Universities UK. 

7.  Guidance on Provision of Welfare and Pastoral Support
 
7.1  
All HEIs have a duty of care to their students. They must have early warning systems in place to alert them when  
 
    students are experiencing difficulties in their student life, and they must ensure that effective sources of advice    
 
 
 
and support are available when students need help.  
 
7.2  
Effective advice and support should be provided to students according to their needs, and typically would cover   
 
 
 
the following areas:
• 
academic study support;
• 
health and wellbeing;
• 
personal counselling;
• 
financial advice;
• 
advice on immigration and visas;
• 
faith support; 
• 
support from other students (through student union or association); and
• 
life in student residences.
 
7.3  
All staff and students should be made aware that, should they have concerns regarding the wellbeing of a  
 
 
    student, they can raise these in confidence with a member of staff. 
 
7.4  
Staff who are engaged in the provision of advice to students should be made aware that, should they have  
 
 
 
 
concerns that a student may be being drawn into terrorism, they should raise these with the University Secretary  
 
 
 
or equivalent, who will then discuss the concern with the University Prevent Group. 
 
7.5  
All staff who have a front-line role in providing welfare advice and support to students should be briefed on the    
 
 
 
institution’s statutory duty as part of their essential training for the role (see 3.2 above).
 
7.6  
Where the institution provides interfaith facilities there must be clear policies and procedures governing their use.  
 
 
 
A senior member of staff should be responsible for the management of these facilities.
8.  Information Sharing
 
8.1  
Where a member of the campus community is concerned about the wellbeing of a student or member of staff,    
 
 
 
s/he may want to share personal information about this person with relevant staff whose role is to provide support  
 
 
 
in such circumstances. Higher education staff can generally disclose information about a student to  
 
 
 
 
 
enable another member of staff to do their job, in line with the institution’s data protection policies. Whenever in    
 
    doubt, advice should be taken from the institution’s Data Protection Officer.
 
8.2  
Similarly, an institution may wish to share personal information about a student or member of staff with a third  
 
 
 
 
party, because of concerns regarding the person’s wellbeing. Decisions to share information with a third party  
 
 
 
 
should be taken by the University Prevent Group and in line with the institution’s data protection policies. Again,   
 
    advice should be taken from the institution’s Data Protection Officer.
 
8.3  
With a view to ensuring suitable protection of personal data, the HEIs will seek as a group to establish a formal    
 
 
 
information sharing protocol with Police Scotland.
9.  Guidance on Effective Liaison with Student Unions
 
9.1  
The counter-terrorism statutory duty does not apply directly to student unions where they are constituted as  
 
 
 
 
independent charitable bodies. However, their cooperation with the HEI will be important in helping it address its  
 
 
 
statutory duty.  
 
9.2  
Each HEI must be clear with its student union about the duties placed on the institution by the Counter-Terrorism  
 
 
 
& Security Act, and the assistance it seeks from the student union in addressing its statutory duty.

 
9.3  
Particular areas in which institutions should seek cooperation from their student unions are:
 
  9.3.1   Management of speakers and events. HEIs must ensure that their student unions work in partnership with  
 
 
 
 
 
them in relation to controversial speakers and events. Unions may, as independent charitable bodies, wish  
 
 
 
 
 
to establish their own protocol for making decisions on controversial speakers and events organised by    
 
 
 
 
 
student societies. It is possible though that, where a student union supports a particular speaker or event,  
 
 
 
 
 
the institution may nevertheless be unwilling to allow the event to take place on campus.  
 
  9.3.1   Provision of welfare and pastoral support. Student unions are often better placed than institutional staff    
 
     
to provide welfare and pastoral support to students. Where in the course of this work, student officers  
 
 
 
 
 
have concerns that a student may be being drawn into terrorism, they should be encouraged to raise this  
 
     
concern in confidence with the University Secretary or equivalent, who would refer it to the University  
 
 
 
 
 
Prevent Group for consideration.
 
  9.3.1   Training. Where student union staff or elected officers are engaged in the provision of welfare and pastoral  
 
 
 
 
support, the institution should invite them to attend Prevent training.
10.  Ongoing Review of the Good Practice Guide
 
10.1   After its initial work in preparing this Good Practice Guide, the HE Prevent Working Group will meet twice per year  
 
 
 
to address its continuing role as a forum for good practice in addressing the statutory duty.  As part of that role,    
 
 
 
the Group will regularly review the terms of this Good Practice Guide, and will update it as appropriate to effect    
 
    improvements and to reflect changing circumstances.
HE Prevent Working Group, 26 June 2015

 
ANNEX 1 

Prevent Duty Guidance: for Scotland
1
HM Government
Prevent Duty Guidance: 
for Scotland
Guidance for specified Scottish 
authorities on the duty in the 
Counter-Terrorism and Security 
Act 2015 to have due regard to the 
need to prevent people from being 
drawn into terrorism.
March 2015









 
ANNEX 2 

Universities PREVENT Working Group 
Membership: June 2015 
 
Clare Bond, Scottish Preventing Violent Extremism Unit  
Christine Buchanan, Robert Gordon University 
Susan Campbell, University of Abertay 
David Cloy, Edinburgh Napier University  
Sue Collier, Heriot-Watt University 
Gavin Douglas, University of Edinburgh  
Roy Drummond, University of St Andrews  
Ewan Hainey, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland 
Jill Hammond, Glasgow School of Art  
Helen Howden, Scotland's Rural College 
Stan Jack, University of Edinburgh (AUCSO) 
Peter McGrath, University of Edinburgh (AUCSO) 
Gordon MacKenzie, University of Glasgow (AUCSO) 
Donna McMillan, University of the West of Scotland  
Jackie Main, Glasgow Caledonian University 
Iain Morrison, University of the Highlands & Islands  
Joanna Morrow, University of Stirling  
David Newall, University of Glasgow (convener) 
Fiona O'Donnell, University of Dundee  
Riley Power, Queen Margaret University 
Jennifer Sewel, University of Aberdeen 
Kate Signorini, Open University in Scotland 
Gill Watt, University of Strathclyde 
 
Attending by invitation 
Mary Senior, University & College Union 
Philip Whyte, National Union of Students 

 
ANNEX 3 

Oversight of security-sensitive research  
material in UK universities: guidance 
October 2012

 Contents
 
Executive summary 
2
 Recommendations 
2
 
1. Background 
3
 
2. Scope of the guidance 
3
 
3. Security-sensitive material: the issues 
3
 
4. A mechanism for dealing with the issues in research 
4
 
  4.1  Items in the safe store 
6
 
   4.2   Security enquiries to ethics officers  
and rapid response process 
6
 
   4.3   The appropriateness of using the  
ethics review procedure 
8
 
5. A second, complementary mechanism 
9
 
6. Stigmatisation 
10
 
7. Ethics officers and IT 
10
 
8. Training 
11
 Annexes 
12
 
 A.  Template for general online questions on  
security-sensitive research 
12
 
B.  Template for online research ethics approval  
form for university researchers 
13
 
C. Advice on internet use from a university IP address 
14
 
 D.  Advice for individuals in universities who 
discover security-sensitive material 
15
 
E. Online form for ethics office security enquiries 
16

 
Executive summary
Universities play a vital role in carrying out research on issues 
where security-sensitive material is relevant. This guidance 
document concerns the storage and circulation of security-
sensitive research material. If circulated carelessly, such material 
is sometimes open to misinterpretation by the authorities, and 
can put authors in danger of arrest and prosecution under, for 
example, counter-terrorism legislation. Certain procedures for 
independently registering and storing this material – through 
research ethics processes – are recommended in this guidance.
 Recommendations
Security-sensitive research in UK universities requires the 
expansion of existing research ethics approval processes.  
This might involve new online questionnaires for researchers  
at universities. 
Security-sensitive research material that can be interpreted 
as engaging Terrorism Act (2006) provisions should be kept 
off personal computers and on specially designated university 
servers supervised by university ethics officers (or their 
counterparts) at one remove from university authorities. This 
material could be accessed easily and securely by researchers, 
but would not be transmitted or exchanged.
Ethics officers (or their counterparts) should be a first, or early, 
point of contact for both internal university enquiries and police 
enquiries about suspect security-sensitive material associated 
with a university or a university member. Such material should 
be treated as having a legitimate research purpose unless ethics 
officers (or their counterparts) cannot identify it or the relevant 
researcher responsible for it.
The mechanism for storing security-sensitive material described 
above needs to be operated alongside comprehensive advice from 
universities to all university-based internet users highlighting the 
legal risks of accessing and downloading from sites that might be 
subject to provisions of counter-terrorism legislation. Reading this 
advice should be a condition of getting a university email account. 
A training scheme should be started for ethics officers (or their 
counterparts) and IT officers in universities in implementing the 
ethics review process and secure storage of sensitive material.

Universities UK  |  Oversight of security-sensitive research material in UK universities: guidance

1 Background
This guidance has been developed following (i) ongoing 
discussions among stakeholders in security research in the UK 
that have been active since 2008; and (ii) the Universities UK 
report Freedom of speech on campus: rights and responsibilities 
in UK universities
 (2011). That report highlighted the crucial role 
that universities play in undertaking research in areas related 
to security, terrorism and resilience. It also acknowledged that 
carrying out such research requires particular care to be taken to 
avoid any infringement of the law. 
Professor Tom Sorell of the University of Birmingham, who has 
taken part in stakeholder discussions, was commissioned to write 
this guidance in consultation with the higher education sector. 

Scope of the guidance
This guidance: 
• outlines specific ethical issues arising in this area and 
gives a template for a questionnaire which universities 
might incorporate into an ethics approval process
• offers a model for a typical internal university rapid 
response process if problems do occur, which might be 
used by institutions to adapt practices and processes 
• outlines what training might involve for university ethics 
officers (or their counterparts) adapting or applying the model

Security-sensitive material: the issues
Sector discussions have identified a number of general issues 
related to security-sensitive material. An Al Qaeda manual, 
for example, can be highly relevant to many kinds of perfectly 
legitimate academic research – studies of jihadism, international 
relations, or conflict and security, to name three. On the other 
hand, prosecutions under counter-terrorism legislation in the UK 
have sometimes been brought on the basis of an accumulation on 
personal computers of downloaded material and other data, for 
example that which is relevant to making explosives. It will not 
always be possible for police to distinguish immediately between 
the accumulation of such material for legitimate research 
purposes and the accumulation of material for terrorist purposes. 
Researchers may not only download material that is security-
sensitive but also visit security-sensitive websites. Such visits 
may be interpreted by police as evidence of sympathy for, and 
perhaps even willingness to collude with, terrorism. At least one 
researcher, in Italy, conducts his research into jihadist activity 
by impersonating a jihadist in internet chat rooms used by 
Oversight of security-sensitive research material in UK universities: guidance  |  Universities UK


extremists.1 He does so conscious of the fact that his behaviour 
may come to the notice of Italian counter-terrorism police.2 
University researchers trying to carry out security-sensitive 
projects in a legal environment that is highly attuned to the 
demands of counter-terrorism need protection from intrusive 
and excessive oversight where this is possible. Consultation 
with stakeholders suggests that this could best be achieved by 
research oversight processes within universities. Such processes 
could expedite checks within universities which would reveal 
people as legitimate researchers and sensitive material as part 
of legitimate projects. The same processes could also speed up 
the identification of material that was outside the area of official 
research, and that might require further investigation.
Not all security-sensitive research relates to terrorism, and 
some universities will have little or no such research being 
conducted. Security-sensitive research could be associated with 
Ministry of Defence-commissioned work on military equipment, 
with extremism from animal rights campaigners, or with IT 
encryption design for public bodies or businesses, to give only 
a few examples. Universities will have to decide locally and 
transparently what ‘security-sensitive research’ covers. 
Researchers apart, many students in universities may visit 
extremist sites out of curiosity, and may exchange material 
downloaded or copied from these sites for a variety of reasons, 
including their own amusement. Communication of this material 
can be interpreted as contravening counter-terrorism legislation 
in the UK. Although the objective of this guidance is to indicate 
means of protecting legitimate research from official intrusion 
and misinterpretation, it is natural to connect this task with the 
broader one of protecting harmless internet use in universities 
that innocently strays into security-sensitive areas. This is 
discussed in section 5.

A mechanism for dealing with the issues in research
Research staff and students in UK universities have for many 
years been required to subject their work to ethical review. 
Initially, this review process mainly applied to medical research. 
Ethical review aimed at preventing avoidable harm to animal 
subjects, and violations of autonomy in ill-informed or otherwise 
vulnerable human subjects. Later, ethical review spread to other 
research areas. The ethical review questionnaire process could 
be expanded to include declaration of research in security-
sensitive areas, including terrorism (see Annexe A). The general 
ethical justification for doing this is straightforward: unauthorised 
acquisition and use of security-sensitive information can carry 
risks to the public, and even legitimate researchers can be 
1 The researcher in question disclosed this at an international terrorism conference held 
in London by the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies on 2 
and 3 October 2008. 
2 Personal communication, December 2008

Universities UK  |  Oversight of security-sensitive research material in UK universities: guidance

suspected of obtaining it and using it in ways that can be harmful, 
with costs to those researchers. Oversight helps to prevent both 
kinds of harm.
To declare as a student or member of academic staff that 
one is using security-sensitive information is in keeping with 
openness in research, and helps to reduce misidentifications of 
information-gathering as suspect or criminal. Besides requiring 
the declaration itself, universities might provide secure storage 
of security-sensitive material on a university server overseen 
by their ethics officers3 or suitable counterparts in universities 
without ethics officers (eg, heads of research ethics committees 
or data protection officers). Central and secure storage – and 
a convention among researchers of not exchanging files from 
this store with others – would keep security-sensitive material 
off personal computers, and would shield the material from 
unjustified external scrutiny and misinterpretation. This would 
be no more onerous than what is required at the moment in 
some universities. For example, at the University of Birmingham, 
postgraduate research projects that involve terrorism-related 
material not only have to be disclosed to the university, they also 
have to be vouched for by the heads of the relevant departments.
A mechanism for registering declarations of security-sensitive 
research is not a mechanism for reviewing this research, or 
regulating it; it is a mechanism that operates on already approved 
research and merely identifies it as a candidate for safe storage.
Sections 2 and 3 of chapter 11 of the Terrorism Act (2006) outlaw 
the dissemination of terrorist publications, including by electronic 
means, and give a very wide definition of ‘terrorist publication’ 
and ‘statements’ that could be construed as endorsing or 
promoting terrorism. A summary of these sections might be 
included as guidance for declarations of use of security-sensitive 
material for research purposes only (see Annexe B). Registration 
of the use of this material might be no more difficult than ticking 
boxes on an online form on a university research ethics website. 
Registration would result in a researcher being issued with a link 
to a password-protected documents file on a central university 
server to which one could upload security-sensitive research 
documents. These documents could be accessed only by the 
researcher, and would be subject to a norm of non-circulation. 
Ethics officers or their counterparts overseeing the store would 
not know more than document titles on the server and names of 
researchers. In this way, research would be kept secure and at 
arm’s length from police, in return for openness on the part of 
researchers about their use of security-sensitive material, all of 
which they would keep in the store. 
3 Normally the academic chairs of research ethics committees, as opposed  
to administrative staff connected to research ethics committees.
Oversight of security-sensitive research material in UK universities: guidance  |  Universities UK


4.1 
Items in the safe store
A store of security-sensitive material on a university server 
will mainly contain documents that, like certain versions of Al 
Qaeda manuals, can be downloaded from the internet or are 
otherwise publicly available. These are not secret documents 
but rather documents that, if found on personal computers or 
as attachments in covertly observed email traffic, may throw 
suspicion on computer owners or senders of email. The purpose 
of the store on the server is to identify the material as being for 
research and to keep it out of any further circulation. The store 
may not only contain documents that were originally in electronic 
form – some may be scanned versions of paper documents that, 
again, might look suspicious to an outsider if found on someone’s 
desk. The store would not typically function as a repository for an 
individual researcher’s writing about security-sensitive material, 
unless that, too, was considered best kept out of circulation and 
was therefore deposited by the researcher. 
4.2 
 Security enquiries to ethics officers and rapid response process
Ethics officers or their counterparts would know who was 
carrying out declared security-sensitive research in a university, 
and so would be in a position to confirm whether or not an 
individual found to possess such material was a declared 
researcher with a good reason for using it. On the other hand, 
ethics officers would not know what the research content was 
in any detail, and would not communicate about even titles of 
stored documents unless required to do so by law officers. 
Supervisors of research student users of the store would 
know what the research content was as a result of the normal 
postgraduate research supervision process; so would heads of 
department in the case of researchers on the staff of universities. 
But supervisors and heads of department would be at one 
remove from ethics officers or their counterparts. In many cases, 
confirmation by ethics officers of declared researcher status 
would be enough to reassure anyone interested that the storage 
of material was legitimate and not to be interfered with. Or, if 
an ethics officer himself or herself needed more reassurance, 
he or she could approach the relevant supervisor or head of 
department. In any case, declared researchers would have at 
least two layers of protection from non-university intrusion: 
ethics officers and heads of department. Depending on individual 
university policy, ethics officers or their counterparts would 
be first or early points of contact for both internal and external 
enquiries about discovered research-sensitive material. 

Universities UK  |  Oversight of security-sensitive research material in UK universities: guidance

4.2.1  Internal enquiries
Internal enquiries would probably start with the unexpected 
discovery by someone of security-sensitive material in an 
inappropriate place. Although the scope for the unexpected 
discovery of such material in an inappropriate electronic location 
would be limited under the mechanism proposed, hard copy 
material might still raise questions and might be in circulation 
even under the proposed mechanism, though it is discouraged in 
the proposed draft online advice (see Annexe B, question 3).
University advice (see Annexe D) might be – this is one possible 
model only – that discovered material of this kind should first be 
taken to campus security, themselves previously briefed about 
the policy on security-sensitive material, who could then contact 
their normal line manager and the ethics officer for verification of 
a relevant declared researcher (Figure 1).
Figure 1: internal enquiries
Discovery of hard-copy 
security-sensitive material
Ethics 
Campus
Normal line
officer
security
manager
Verification of a
relevant declared 
researcher
4.2.2  External enquiries
Enquiries from the police that arise from their own discovery or 
an externally reported discovery of security-sensitive material 
associated with a university or university researcher could 
also start with the ethics officer of the university concerned 
(see Figure 2). It would aid this approach if universities were 
to share their procedures in this regard with the local police 
and provide a first point of contact4 – this should form part of 
 
routine engagement with the police on campus safety and crime 
 
prevention. Properly briefed in this way, the police are likely to 
treat suspect university-associated material as innocent until 
proven otherwise.
4 See 2008 ACPO guidelines on the application of neighbourhood  
policy to higher education institutions.
Oversight of security-sensitive research material in UK universities: guidance  |  Universities UK


Figure 2: external enquiries
Discovery of
security-sensitive material
Association of
Police
Chief Police
Officers
Ethics
officer
UUK
guidance
University ethics offices themselves might offer both voicemail 
and email contact for external and internal queries. The voicemail 
would offer a checking service: a service to determin
 
e whether 
or not material found somewhere was associated with a d  eclared 
researcher and research project.5
4.3 
 The appropriateness of using the ethics review procedure 
Not only is ethics approval a well-known and easy-to-adapt part 
of the process of monitoring university research in the UK, but 
ethics officers are credible contact points for the authorities 
and credible custodians of university research stores. Ethics 
officers – probably senior academics who head research ethics 
committees – or their counterparts could be designated first 
contact points in all universities for enquiries about security-
sensitive material discovered on university computers. Ethics 
officers have networks that extend across the UK,6 and work in 
many or most universities. This makes it straightforward to offer 
them training on a national basis in security-sensitive research 
5  Enquirers could be directed to an online form (see Annexe E) via which they could submit 
their concerns, creating a written record. Draft responses would be copied to a registrar 
and/or pro-vice-chancellor’s office and/or head of department before being authorised 
for release to the enquirer. Fuller police enquiries would be referred to these university 
authorities from the start.
6  The relevant body here is the Universities Ethics Sub-Committee of the Association 
of Research Ethics Committees (AREC). AREC has a second sub-committee dealing 
primarily with NHS research. I am grateful to Dr Brendan Laverty of the Research and 
Commercial Services Department at the University of Birmingham for information  
about AREC.

Universities UK  |  Oversight of security-sensitive research material in UK universities: guidance

issues, and to roll out a system of oversight of such research in 
most UK universities. 
Even when it is a condition of getting ethics approval for research 
that applicants agree to use a secure, central research store for 
security-sensitive documents, there will always be researchers 
who ignore or break the rules and, perhaps for principled 
reasons, refuse to be open about the material they are using. 
These people opt out of the mechanism and do so at a cost: if the 
use of central security stores becomes widespread, the discovery 
of undeclared, security-sensitive research material will cast 
more suspicion on a researcher than it would (as now) if there 
was no mechanism for handling it. So, for the self-protection of 
researchers, it is wise to use the secure central store.

A second, complementary mechanism
It is not only researchers who need protection from scrutiny and 
arrest when they use security-sensitive material legitimately, but 
also non-researchers in universities, including undergraduates. 
They may access this material for academic purposes, but they 
may also turn to it out of personal curiosity and download it 
with no malicious intent. Such individuals would not normally be 
subjected to a research ethics process or checks by an ethics 
officer to clear the material of suspicion.
The right response to the danger of official misinterpretation 
of this material is not to create more central stores for non-
researchers. Rather, pointed guidelines are needed for all 
internet users at universities and more exacting conditions 
for acquiring email accounts at, and internet access from, 
universities. University guidance for all internet users can call 
attention to the risks of visiting and downloading from jihadist 
websites. Behaviour that seems to ignore this advice might be 
punished with the loss of email privileges.
Guidance issued in the future by all UK universities might promise 
the same consequences for frivolous visits to, and downloading 
from, jihadist sites, as well as for frivolous exchanges of material 
obtained from these sites. 
Such guidance is not foolproof, but it should be no easier to 
ignore than existing rules for internet use in a given university. 
Once again the message sent out from universities to students 
and staff would be that, for one’s own protection, one should not 
invite the attentions of the police by visiting such sites. Advice 
to all university-based internet users about the dangers of 
accessing and storing security-sensitive material, and about the 
sheer breadth of the legal definitions of material that might have 
Oversight of security-sensitive research material in UK universities: guidance  |  Universities UK


the effect of encouraging terrorism (see Annexe B), concerns 
everyone or most people in universities, and not just researchers. 
By providing clear advice and research-specific mechanisms, 
universities will minimise the risk of difficulties arising from 
individuals accessing sensitive material for legitimate purposes. 
6 Stigmatisation
It can be anticipated that some security-sensitive material will be 
associated with Islamic studies researchers, and perhaps other 
social science researchers who identify themselves as Muslim.  
Do the proposed mechanisms single out Muslims? No. The 
research ethics process will involve all postgraduate and some 
staff research relevant to the Terrorism Act (see the initial 
questions proposed for online security-sensitive research review 
at Annexe A), whether that terrorism is Muslim-linked or not. It 
will also extend to a broad range of security-sensitive material 
– such as military research and research promoting counter-
terrorism. The existence of a research ethics review process and 
the availability of safe storage for security-sensitive material will 
not stigmatise any specific groups. 

Ethics officers and IT 
Since the mechanism suggested in section 4 of this guidance 
involves a secure server, it will carry some administrative and 
monetary costs to universities. On the administrative side, it 
requires ethics officers to be able to get from IT colleagues clear 
descriptions for researchers of how stored material will be kept 
secure against intrusion. At the same time, storage should involve 
the confidential communication to ethics officers of the number 
and titles of documents stored. This could be done if a directory 
of titles of documents, as opposed to the documents themselves, 
could be accessed by ethics officers at any time. 
10 
Universities UK  |  Oversight of security-sensitive research material in UK universities: guidance

8 Training
Universities implementing the mechanisms described in this 
guidance may consider providing associated training. A training 
programme should include: 
1.  a review of current terrorism legislation relevant to research 
2.  suggested contents for forms (electronic and paper) for an 
ethics approval process 
3.  suggested internet user advice 
4.  what secure server contents would look like when accessed by 
an ethics officer 
5.  what secure server contents would look like when accessed by 
a researcher 
6.  what ethics officers should do in the case of a query about 
security-sensitive research material from within their university 
7.  what ethics officers should do in the case of a query from 
outside their university 
The training would probably also involve information for IT officers 
about the hardware and software necessary for a secure, central 
storage system.
Oversight of security-sensitive research material in UK universities: guidance  |  Universities UK
11 

 
ANNEXE A
 
 Template for general online questions on security-sensitive 
material
 
 Does your research fit into any of the following security-sensitive 
categories? If so, indicate which:
 
a.  commissioned by the military:
Yes
No
 
b.  commissioned under an EU security call:
Yes
No
 
c.  involve the acquisition of security clearances:
Yes
No
 
d.  concerns terrorist or extreme groups:
Yes
No
 
 If your answer to question 1d is yes, continue to the questions in 
Annexe B.
12 
Universities UK  |  Oversight of security-sensitive research material in UK universities: guidance

 
ANNEXE B
 
 Template for online research ethics approval form for  
university researchers
 
 The Terrorism Act (2006) outlaws the dissemination of records, 
statements and other documents that can be interpreted as promoting or 
endorsing terrorist acts.
 
1.   Does your research involve the storage on a computer of any 
such records, statements or other documents?
Yes
No
 
2.   Might your research involve the electronic transmission (eg as an 
email attachment) of such records or statements?
Yes
No
 
3.   If you answered ‘Yes’ to questions 1 or 2, you are advised to store 
the relevant records or statements electronically on a secure 
university file store. The same applies to paper documents with 
the same sort of content. These should be scanned and uploaded. 
Access to this file store will be protected by a password unique to 
you. You agree to store all documents relevant to questions 1 and 
2 on that file store:
Yes
 
3a.  You agree not to transmit electronically to any third party 
documents in the document store:
Yes
 
4.   Will your research involve visits to websites that might be 
associated with extreme, or terrorist, organisations?
Yes
No
 
5.   If you answer ‘Yes’ to question 4, you are advised that such sites 
may be subject to surveillance by the police. Accessing those 
sites from university IP addresses might lead to police enquiries. 
Please acknowledge that you understand this risk by putting an 
‘X’ in the ‘Yes’ box.
Yes
Oversight of security-sensitive research material in UK universities: guidance  |  Universities UK
13 

 
6.   By submitting to the ethics process, you accept that the 
university ethics office will have access to a list of titles 
of documents (but not the contents of documents) in your 
document store. These titles will only be available to the ethics 
office. Please acknowledge that you accept this by putting an ‘X’ 
in the ‘Yes’ box.
Yes
Countersigned by supervisor/manager
 
ANNEXE C 
 
Advice on internet use from a university IP address
The Terrorism Act (2006) outlaws web posting of material that 
encourages or endorses terrorist acts, even terrorist acts carried 
out in the past. Sections of the Terrorism Act also create a risk 
of prosecution for those who transmit material of this nature, 
including transmitting this material electronically.  
The storage of such material on a computer can, if discovered, 
prompt a police investigation. 
Again, visits to websites related to jihadism and downloading 
of material issued by jihadist groups (even from open-access 
sites) may be subject to monitoring by the police. Storage of this 
material for research purposes must be registered through the 
normal research ethics process of the university. 
14 
Universities UK  |  Oversight of security-sensitive research material in UK universities: guidance

 
ANNEXE D 
 
 Advice for individuals in universities who discover security-
sensitive material
 
For general audience
Some university research involves the use of security-sensitive 
material, including material related to terrorism and extremism. 
Procedures exist for storing this material and not circulating it 
if it is being used for legitimate research purposes. If you come 
across material that seems to fit this description, bring it to the 
attention of the university security office.
 
 
For security offices
Some university research involves the use of security-sensitive 
material, including material related to terrorism and extremism. 
Procedures exist for storing this material and not circulating it if 
it is being used for legitimate research purposes. If such material 
is handed in, please inform ______________________________
and the research ethics officer.
Oversight of security-sensitive research material in UK universities: guidance  |  Universities UK
15 

 
ANNEXE E 
 
Online form for ethics office security enquiries
This form is to be used to report the discovery within the 
university of unsupervised material that appears to be security 
sensitive – in particular, material that might be connected with 
terrorism and extremism. Material of this kind is sometimes 
connected with legitimate research projects, and this office 
carries out checks relevant to establishing whether or not items 
reported on have that status.
 
Your name
Your email address
Your contact telephone number
Your enquiry or report
Thank you. This office will contact you and undertake an 
investigation if necessary.
16 
Universities UK  |  Oversight of security-sensitive research material in UK universities: guidance

Universities UK (UUK) is the representative organisation for 
the UK’s universities. Founded in 1918, its mission is to be 
the definitive voice for all universities in the UK, providing 
high quality leadership and support to its members to 
promote a successful and diverse higher education sector. 
With 134 members and offices in London, Cardiff and 
Edinburgh, it promotes the strength and success of UK 
universities nationally and internationally. 
Universities UK 
Woburn House, 20 Tavistock Square, London, WC1H 9HQ 
Tel +44 (0)20 7419 4111
Email: xxxx@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx.xx.xx
Website: www.universitiesuk.ac.uk
Twitter: @UniversitiesUK
 
ISBN: 978-1-84036-275-6
 
© Universities UK 
October 2012

 
ANNEX 4 


External speakers 
in higher education 
institutions

02  External speakers in higher education institutions
CONTENTS
Foreword 
1
Introduction and overview  
2
1: A summary of the legal context 
3
2: Effective external speaker processes 
14
3: External speaker case studies 
26
Annexe A: Legal considerations 
31
Annexe B: Points to consider when reviewing 
your external speaker processes 
37
Annexe C: Other resources 
38
Acknowledgments 
39
Bibliography 
40
USING THIS GUIDANCE
The two main sections of the guidance cover (1) 
the legal context within which external speaker 
decisions must be made (Part 1) and (2) the practical 
components of securing freedom of speech within 
the law (Part 2). A small number of case studies are 
provided in Part 3.

Foreword 
1
FOREWORD
‘It is better to debate a question 
Drawing on existing practice within the sector, this 
without settling it than to settle a 
guidance seeks to map out the different factors that 
universities may wish to consider when drawing up 
question without debating it.’
policies and protocols for external speakers, reflecting 
both their legal obligations and their practical 
Joseph Joubert, French essayist and moralist 
application. There is no one simple solution to the 
issues that emerge, and this guidance does not seek to 
Free speech is fundamental to the role of universities. 
prescribe a single model. Institutions vary according to 
As a matter of law, universities in England and Wales 
their mission, demography, size, location and structure, 
have a statutory duty to secure freedom of speech, 
and their ways of managing external speakers will 
reflecting their mission as places where new ideas can 
vary accordingly. Recognising that every institution is 
be advanced and where open and free debate can and 
different, this guidance instead provides a framework for 
must take place. 
reviewing and enhancing existing processes. 
However, free speech is not an unqualified privilege. 
Thanks are due to the wide range of organisations and 
Universities are subject to a range of legislation 
individuals whose expertise and experience provided 
and obligations, including those relating to equality, 
vital input during the development of this guidance. 
security and charity law. These responsibilities have 
been explored in previous Universities UK publications, 
particularly Freedom of speech on campus: rights and 
responsibilities in UK universities (2011)
One area that we felt deserved further attention was in 
Nicola Dandridge 
relation to external speakers. The open and uncensored  Chief Executive, Universities UK
debate that is so rightly treasured by universities 
often involves contributions from external speakers. 
Invitations to external speakers play a central role in 
university life, not least in terms of allowing students to 
be exposed to a range of different beliefs, to challenge 
other people’s views and to develop their own opinions. 
Although most speakers are uncontroversial, some will 
express contentious, even inflammatory or offensive, 
views. In some cases, their presence on campus may 
be divisive. Universities have to balance their obligation 
to secure free speech with their duties to ensure that 
the law is observed, which includes promoting good 
campus relations and maintaining the safety and 
security of staff, students and visitors. In practice, 
achieving this balance is not always easy. 

2  External speakers in higher education institutions
INTRODUCTION AND OVERVIEW
Freedom of speech lies at the heart 
This guidance will apply to a range of activities involving 
of universities’ missions. In fact 
external speakers. Examples include visiting lecturers 
invited by academic staff, religious and political 
universities in England and Wales 
representatives speaking on-campus and events such 
have an express legal duty to secure 
as debates, speeches and conferences taking place 
freedom of speech. 
in university facilities that have been organised by 
staff, students and external bodies. The majority of 
external speaker requests will be straightforward and 
But free speech is not open-ended or absolute; 
low-risk. However, some will be complicated and will 
universities must take account of other considerations, 
require further consideration. A number of the steps 
including a range of relevant legislation. Balancing 
identified in this guidance will only apply in a minority 
all these different considerations and legal provisions 
of circumstances – to events or speakers deemed to be 
is a complicated process, particularly in relation to 
higher-risk. 
invitations to external speakers. This guidance seeks to 
provide practical assistance to universities in steering a 
Institutions must ensure that their external speaker 
path through all the different considerations, legal and 
processes adapt in response to geopolitical or 
otherwise, that arise in the context of inviting external 
socioeconomic events, legislative changes and other 
speakers on campus. 
factors. Consideration should also be given to what 
oversight is in place of events taking place in institutions 
The guidance builds on Universities UK’s 2011 
or establishments in foreign countries that are 
publication Freedom of speech on campus: rights and 
formally linked to an institution in the UK. Whilst the 
responsibilities in UK universities which recommended 
legal framework will differ for events held overseas, 
that universities should ‘review current protocols/
they will nonetheless pose similar reputational risks 
policies on speaker meetings to ensure they are up to 
should views outside the law be propagated. Some UK 
date and relevant, and are aligned with the students’ 
legislation, notably anti-terrorism legislation, can apply 
union’s protocols and policies’. It will be of relevance 
to activities outside the UK. 
to a range of university staff including those with 
In order to make well-informed decisions, universities 
overall responsibility for external speaker policies and 
must ensure that they have effective procedures in place 
those involved in the consideration of external speaker 
to consider each external speaker request. This is not 
requests.1 It complements resources published by the 
simply a question of drafting a written policy (such as a 
National Union of Students, Equality Challenge Unit and  Code of Practice on Freedom of Speech, which is a legal 
Charity Commission.2  
requirement in England and Wales), but also of ensuring 
Institutions are autonomous bodies with the freedom to  it is clearly communicated, adhered to and reviewed 
determine their own external speaker processes. This 
regularly. This guidance provides a framework for 
may result in institutions taking different approaches 
individual institutions to review their existing approach 
to when and how external speaker requests are made 
to managing external speakers. It focuses not only 
and handled, to the information they request from 
on bureaucratic considerations such as how speaker 
those organising external speaker events and to the 
requests are made, but also more complicated issues of 
individuals they involve in making decisions about 
how to make informed decisions on individual speakers 
individual external speaker requests. In contrast, 
and what mitigating actions might enable external 
adherence to the law is not optional and applies to  
speaker events to proceed within the law. 
all institutions. 
1  This includes vice-chancellors, governing bodies of higher education institutions, academic registrars, heads of university security, heads of 
student services, university chaplains, equality and diversity officers, directors of estates and conference and event managers. 
2 For other resources, please see Annexe C.

1: A summary of the legal context 
3
1: A SUMMARY OF THE LEGAL CONTEXT
Universities operate in a complex 
example, to allowing a speaker to commit a criminal 
legal environment. It is vital that all 
offence in the course of speaking. Examples of criminal 
offences which might fall into this category are using 
individuals involved in considering 
threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour in 
external speaker requests understand  circumstances where it is likely that racial hatred will 
this legal framework and access 
be stirred up (or with such intention), or inviting support 
for a proscribed terrorist organisation. However, it 
appropriate legal advice where 
should be noted that these provisions do not create a 
necessary.  
broad right not to be offended. Expressing views which 
some people may find objectionable or offensive is 
Whilst academic freedom and freedom of speech are 
not prohibited generally – it is only where the specific 
fundamental to the role and success of universities, they  requirements of the criminal offences are met that 
are not unqualified rights. This section sets out in brief 
freedom of speech will be restricted by the criminal law.
the complex legal framework within which decisions 
In addition to the limitations on freedom of speech 
about external speakers must be made. Further 
imposed by the criminal law, there are also aspects of 
information can be found in Annexe A and examples of 
the civil law that can be relevant to external speaker 
how the law might apply in practice in Part 3: External 
events. The civil law provides remedies, for example, 
speaker case studies.
where a speaker defames another person.
When considering the balance between the laws which 
The legal context in overview 
promote freedom of speech and those which restrict 
it, the laws relating to equality and discrimination 
Freedom of speech, human rights and academic 
also become relevant, including the duties placed on 
freedoms are rightly regarded as important foundations  universities to have due regard to the need to prevent 
of a modern democratic society. The law places strong 
discrimination, harassment and victimisation.
positive duties on universities3 to secure freedom of 
In addition to the fundamental legal principles outlined 
speech for staff, students and visiting speakers.4 These 
above, other legal frameworks become relevant when 
concepts are very familiar to universities and their 
it comes to dealing with practical issues concerning 
staff, and are closely aligned with encouraging wide 
external speaker events. If a proposed speaker is 
ranging debate, research and teaching that is not afraid  particularly controversial, there may be risk of protest, 
to address controversial issues. Part of the process of 
which in turn may focus particular attention to the 
encouraging vibrant, thought provoking and challenging  health and safety of all concerned. Speakers may 
debate on controversial issues involves the presence 
also attract media attention and become the focus of 
of external speakers on university or students’ union 
extensive social media activity. If a speaker is suspected 
premises, either at the request of the university, or at 
of involvement in criminal activity, it may be necessary 
the request of a students’ union or student society, in 
to consider whether information about the speaker 
accordance with the university’s external speaker policy.
should be shared with the police, in which case 
However, whilst the law promotes and protects 
obligations under the Data Protection Act will need  
freedoms of speech and debate, the law also places 
to be considered.
limits on those freedoms, both in a university setting 
These legal frameworks can also be potentially relevant 
and elsewhere. The freedoms which the law protects 
to the activities of third party organisations that book 
and promotes are freedoms within the law. So the 
university premises for speaking events.
protection of freedom of speech does not extend, for 
3  In the context of this guidance, thought must be given to the range of different university and higher education institution structures.  
The particular legal structure and funding of institutions may need to be considered when determining the legal obligations on an institution, 
particularly where those legal obligations are matters of public law.  Some of these questions are considered more fully in Annexe A.
4 The duties apply to universities in England and Wales; see pages 6 and 32 in relation to Scotland and Northern Ireland. 

4  External speakers in higher education institutions
Diagram 1: External speakers – overview of the legal framework
Protection from 
Contract law/commercial 
Data Protection Act
harassment
bookings
Health & safety
Defamation
Human rights
Private rights
Equality
Human rights
Equality duties
Charity law
External 
Public law
speaker events
Public benefit
Section 43 Freedom of 
Speech duties
Various public order and 
Criminal law
Public processions and 
‘threats’ offences
public assemblies
Hate crime
Public meeting law
Protection from 
Anti-terrorism laws
Breach of the peace
harassment
Duty to report

1: A summary of the legal context 
5
In many cases applying these laws in relation to 
decisions regarding an external speaker event will be 
Summary of the key legal issues
straightforward. However, in some cases, most likely 
The key legal issues that are considered in relation to 
those involving controversial speakers or controversial 
external speakers are:
subject matter, these judgments need to be exercised 
with particular care and attention.
•  The duty to secure freedom of speech within the law
There are a wide range of potentially controversial 
•  Human rights law
topics and speakers, and in part because they are 
controversial they are of genuine interest to students 
•  Equality law
and the academic community, both on a personal level 
and as a matter of academic debate. The law does not 
•  Criminal law (including anti-terrorism laws)
seek to prevent such open debate in universities. On the 
contrary, universities have a statutory duty to secure 
•  The duty of care to staff, students and visitors
free speech. Universities need, however, to be aware of 
the legal framework which sets the boundaries, so that 
•  Civil law claims relating to spoken words
they are able to operate within them.  
•  Data sharing
The legal framework governs all aspects of activity 
relating to external speakers, from drafting and 
•  Charity law
reviewing a policy or code of practice on freedom of 
speech and external speakers, to making decisions 
•  Law relating to security staff
under that policy, to dealing with urgent questions which 
might arise in the context of a controversial speaker, 
•  Students’ unions
and to cases where the police ask for assistance.
•  Third party bookings of university/
Because of the overlapping nature of the laws involved 
students’ union premises
and the variety of factual issues that can arise, it is 
impossible to provide a succinct summary of the 
law that will cover every situation, but the following 
summary seeks to draw together the key provisions so 
that institutions are able to review their policies, and are 
informed about the legal framework that applies to their 
decisions. Some legal concepts are explained further 
in Annexe A, but neither this summary nor the annexe 
are intended as a substitute for obtaining legal advice in 
appropriate cases.

6  External speakers in higher education institutions
The duty to secure freedom of 
This statutory duty does not apply in Scotland but there 
is a strong tradition of freedom of speech at Scottish 
speech within the law
universities and the human rights and equalities law 
discussed later in this section apply directly to impose 
Section 43(1) of the Education (No 2) Act 1986 places a 
legal duties on Scottish universities in relation to 
direct obligation on universities5 in England and Wales6 
freedom of speech.
to ‘take such steps as are reasonably practicable 
to ensure that freedom of speech within the law is 
In Northern Ireland, the Education (Academic Tenure) 
secured for members, students and employees of the 
(Northern Ireland) Order 1988 protects academic staff 
establishment and for visiting speakers’.
from losing their jobs or privileges as a result of putting 
forward or testing new, controversial or unpopular 
This duty ‘within the law’ extends to ensuring ‘so far as 
opinions within the law. This does not extend to guests 
is reasonably practicable, that the use of any premises  or visiting speakers, however. 
of the establishment is not denied to any individual or 
body of persons on any ground connected with (a) the 
The concept of ‘academic freedom’ is not directly 
beliefs or views of that individual or of any member of 
applicable to external speakers, but is a question of 
that body; or (b) the policy or objectives of that body.’  
employment law between the academic and his or her 
employing institution. The reasons for this are explained 
For the purposes of the Act, the university’s duty extends  in Annexe A.
to students’ union premises, even if the university does 
not own them (see page 12 for more information). 
Pursuant to the s.43(1) duty, the Act also requires 
 Some practical advice 
universities to issue and keep updated a code of practice 
setting out the procedures to be followed by members, 
Duty to secure freedom of speech 
students and employees in connection with the 
within the law
organisation of meetings and activities, and the conduct 
required of them. The university’s governing body may 
•  Obtain relevant background information to 
include such other matters in the code as it considers 
enable an informed decision to be made on 
appropriate.
whether the event can proceed within the law.
The university is also under a duty to take such steps 
•  Decide whether it is reasonably practicable to 
as are ‘reasonably practicable (including where 
take measures to enable the event to proceed 
appropriate the initiation of disciplinary measures) 
within the law (eg by applying conditions or taking 
to secure that the requirements of the code… are 
other action within the institution’s powers).
complied with’.  For example, this may apply to a 
•  Ensure that a code of practice is in place, that 
situation where an individual or group behaves in a 
any reasonably practicable steps are taken to 
way which seeks to prevent an invited speaker from 
ensure compliance, and that it is kept updated.
proceeding with their speech; institutions should, 
however, check that their disciplinary procedures allow 
action to be taken in such circumstances.
5  The s.43 duty applies to ‘Every individual and body of persons concerned in the government’ of the university, but see the note at the 
end of Annexe A as to how ‘university’ is defined in this and other legislative contexts. 
6 See page 32 in relation to Scotland and Northern Ireland.

1: A summary of the legal context 
7
Human rights law
Equality law
The Human Rights Act 1998 (‘the HRA’) in effect 
Universities owe duties to both staff and students under 
incorporates significant elements of the European 
the Equality Act 2010 (in England, Wales and Scotland9), 
Convention on Human Rights into UK law7. Universities8  and in some respects these duties can extend to the 
need to have regard to the HRA when making decisions 
activities of external speakers.  
about external speakers, both since they may be public 
The Act prohibits unlawful discrimination in relation 
authorities for certain purposes, and because the UK 
to certain ‘protected characteristics’, namely age, 
courts are obliged to interpret UK law in accordance 
disability, gender reassignment, marriage10 and civil 
with the Act. The following rights are of potential 
partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or 
relevance to external speakers:
belief, sex and sexual orientation.
•  Article 9: freedom of thought, conscience and 
The meaning of the phrase ‘religion or belief’ is likely to 
religion. This right includes an individual’s ‘freedom, 
have particular importance in relation to some external 
either alone or in community with others and in 
speaker events. It has been widely interpreted in the 
public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, 
employment law context and advice should be sought 
in worship, teaching, practice and observance’.
if it is unclear whether a ‘religion or belief’ is engaged. 
•  Article 10: freedom of expression. This right includes 
In outline, the definition includes various aspects 
‘freedom to hold opinions and to receive and 
of religious and non-religious beliefs and political 
impart information and ideas without interference 
philosophies, although there is ongoing legal debate as 
by public authority and regardless of frontiers’.
to the extent to which it protects membership of political 
parties and similar political organisations.11
•  Article 11: freedom of assembly and association.
Unlawful discrimination can occur in various ways:
•  through ‘direct’ discrimination (less favourable 
These rights are qualified rights, which broadly means 
treatment because of a protected characteristic)
that national laws can place limitations on them to 
the extent necessary in a democratic society in order 
•  through ‘indirect’ discrimination (the 
to protect matters such as public order, public safety, 
application of a provision, criterion or 
crime prevention, national security and the protection of 
practice which has a discriminatory effect on 
the rights and freedoms of others.
someone with a protected characteristic)
Article 14 prohibits discrimination in relation to the 
enjoyment of the above rights on any ground such as ‘sex,  •  through harassment (engaging in ‘unwanted 
race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, 
conduct’ related to a protected characteristic, 
national or social origin, association with a national 
which includes verbal harassment)
minority, property, birth or other status’.
•  through victimisation (subjecting someone to 
detrimental treatment because they seek to bring 
proceedings under the Equality Act, for example)
7  The HRA applies in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Strictly speaking ‘UK law’ is a misnomer, but is used in this summary 
as a shorthand where the law is identical in all jurisdictions of the UK.
8 See note at the end of Annexe A as to how ‘university’ is defined in this and some other legislative contexts.
9 See footnote 11 in relation to Northern Ireland.
10  Once enabling legislation has brought it into force, the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 will allow same sex couples to marry and 
obtain the same legal benefits and protections as other married couples, including under the Equality Act.
11  This matter is specifically covered in Northern Ireland under Article 3 of the Fair Employment and Treatment (Northern Ireland) Order 1998 
and section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998.

8  External speakers in higher education institutions
Again, this is only a brief outline of the concepts and 
Universities will therefore need to have due regard 
advice should be sought if it is necessary to consider 
to their obligations under equality legislation when 
the provisions in detail. For example, in relation 
(for example) considering what policies and codes of 
to ‘harassment’, a university can be liable for the 
practice to adopt, and when making decisions about 
harassment of staff by third parties, such as external 
external speaker events.
speakers.12 Furthermore, under the Public Sector 
Equality Duty, universities are obliged to have due 
regard to the need to:
 Some practical advice 
•  eliminate discrimination, harassment, victimisation 
and other conduct prohibited by the Act
Equality law
•  advance equality of opportunity between 
•  Comply with the Public Sector Equality 
persons who share a relevant protected 
Duty and equality law when drafting and 
characteristic and those who do not
applying policies and making decisions.
•  Institutions may be liable for the 
•  foster good relations between persons 
harassment of staff by third parties.
who share a relevant protected 
characteristic and those who do not
At present, the Equality Act 2010 does not extend to 
Criminal law (including anti-
Northern Ireland. However, there is various similar 
terrorism legislation)
anti-discrimination legislation in Northern Ireland 
(see Annexe A). There is also an ‘equality’ and ‘good 
A number of criminal offences can be committed by 
relations’ duty in s.75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 
spoken words, typically involving threats of violence 
which requires public authorities to have due regard to 
or certain categories of ‘hate crime’. In relation to 
the need to promote equality of opportunity: 
anti-terrorism legislation, there are also offences in 
• 
connection with arranging or attending meetings and 
between persons of different religious 
terrorist training events. Examples which illustrate the 
belief, political opinion, racial group, age, 
range of offences are:
marital status or sexual orientation 
•  threats of violence 
•  between men and women generally 
•  using threatening, abusive or insulting 
•  between persons with a disability and persons without 
words13 or behaviour or disorderly behaviour 
within hearing of someone likely to be 
•  between persons with dependants 
caused harassment, alarm or distress 
and persons without
•  using threatening, abusive or insulting words or 
Public authorities in Northern Ireland are also required 
behaviour to another person with intent to cause 
to have regard to the desirability of promoting good 
that person to believe that immediate unlawful 
relations between persons of different religious belief, 
violence will be used against him or another; or to 
political opinion or racial group.
provoke the immediate use of unlawful violence by 
another; or to cause another to believe that such 
violence will be used or is likely to be provoked14
12  On 1 October 2013 the third party harassment provisions in s.40 of the Equality Act 2010 were repealed by s.65 of the Enterprise and 
Regulatory Reform Act 2013. However, employers may still be liable for failing to prevent such harassment under other provisions of the 
Equality Act.
13  Note: ‘insulting words’ will be removed from the scope of the offence of causing harassment, alarm or distress once s.57 of the Crime and 
Courts Act 2013 is brought into force, on a date to be announced.
14  The offences under the Public Order Act 1986 concerning the use of threatening or abusive words do not apply in Scotland, but this conduct 
can amount to criminal conduct as a matter of common law in Scotland and may amount to breach of the peace.

1: A summary of the legal context 
9
•  using threatening, abusive or insulting words 
•  collection or possession of information 
or behaviour either with the intention of stirring 
useful for acts of terrorism
up racial hatred, or in circumstances where 
it is likely racial hatred will be stirred up 
•  inviting another to provide money or property 
with the intent that it should be used (or 
•  using threatening words or behaviour with 
having reasonable grounds to suspect it will 
the intention to stir up religious hatred, or 
be used) for terrorist purposes. There are 
hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation, 
various other ‘terrorist property offences’
subject to certain free speech protections 
•  publishing statements encouraging terrorism 
•  speech which constitutes a ‘course of conduct’ 
and disseminating terrorist material
amounting to harassment within the meaning 
of the Protection from Harassment Act 199715
This list outlines a number of detailed criminal offences, 
but in order to assess whether an offence has been 
In addition to the general criminal laws referred to 
committed it is necessary for the precise requirements of 
above, the anti-terrorism legislation also creates various  the relevant statute to be met. The legislation does specify 
offences which might be relevant when considering 
that certain defences to these offences are available in 
external speaker issues. It is beyond the scope of this 
some circumstances, but a detailed exposition of these 
guidance to set out every provision in detail, but in 
is beyond the scope of this guidance. The statutory 
outline the offences are:
definition of ‘terrorism’ is outlined in Annexe A.
•  professing to belong to a ‘proscribed organisation’16
Another category of both criminal and anti-terrorism 
offences which might be relevant to external events 
•  inviting support for a proscribed organisation
are those which relate to written (including electronic) 
material. In the context of an external speaker event, 
•  arranging or managing a meeting of three or more 
it is possible that such offences could be committed 
persons which is known: (a) to support a proscribed 
through publicising the event, if the requirements of 
organisation; or (b) to further the activities of a 
the relevant statutory provision are met (broadly these 
proscribed organisation; or (c) to be addressed by 
relate to offences of publishing statements encouraging 
a person who belongs to or professes to belong to 
terrorism and disseminating terrorist material). Some 
a proscribed organisation. It is also an offence to 
further details are set out in Annexe A.
assist in arranging or managing such meetings
In addition to the categories of offences outlined here, 
•  addressing a meeting of three or more persons where  which are most likely to be relevant to speaker events, 
the purpose of the address is to encourage support 
there are various other associated anti-terrorism 
for a proscribed organisation or to further its activities offences which are beyond the scope of this guidance.  
It is also worth noting that in certain cases, acts that are 
•  wearing, carrying or displaying clothing or articles 
committed outside the UK can be considered offences 
which arouse reasonable suspicion of membership 
under UK terrorism legislation.  
or support of a proscribed organisation
Offences of failing to report certain terrorism 
•  inviting another to provide money or other 
activities and offences
property with the intention that it should be 
used, or having reasonable cause to suspect it 
Generally, there is no legal obligation to prevent or 
might be used for the purposes of terrorism
report criminal activity under UK law; however, in the 
case of certain terrorism activities and offences, the law 
•  providing or receiving training in relation to 
does in certain circumstances impose a positive duty to 
‘terrorism skills’ or ‘weapons training’
report matters to the police, and failure to comply is a 
criminal offence. Details of the scope of the two offences 
•  attendance at a place used for terrorist training
are set out in Annexe A.
15 In Northern Ireland the equivalent legislation is the Protection from Harassment (Northern Ireland) Order 1997.  
16  A list of proscribed organisations is published by the Home Office, available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/proscribed-
terror-groups-or-organsiations

10  External speakers in higher education institutions
In cases where suspected terrorist or other criminal 
Offences relating to public processions and 
activity does not fall within the scope of the ‘duty to 
assemblies and ‘trespassory assemblies’
disclose’ offences, an institution wishing to consider 
Further offences are created by the Public Order Act 
making a disclosure to the police will still need to 
198618 in relation to potentially disruptive processions 
consider issues relating to data sharing under the Data 
and assemblies in certain circumstances. Some further 
Protection Act 1998 (see page 11).
details are set out in Annexe A. 
Breach of the peace
Although not technically a criminal offence in England, 
 Some practical advice 
Wales and Northern Ireland, both the police and 
ordinary citizens have powers to arrest in relation to a 
breach of the peace. Again, it is not the intention of this 
Criminal law (including  
guidance to provide a detailed explanation of the law 
anti-terrorism legislation)
relating to breach of the peace. In Scotland breach of 
•  Generally universities have no duty to report 
the peace does constitute a criminal offence which is 
or prevent criminal offences, except in specific 
subject to prosecution and, by contrast with the rest of 
cases involving certain terrorism offences.
the UK, a member of the public may not carry out an 
arrest solely in relation to breach of the peace.  
•  A range of criminal offences can apply to certain 
threatening, abusive or insulting words, but only 
Concern that a breach of the peace may occur (in 
if the requirements of a specific offence are met.
addition to other criminal offences) may be a factor 
when considering a university’s duty of care in relation 
•  Consider what assurances might be sought from 
to staff, students and visitors (see page 11), but any 
speakers if concerns are raised that they may 
decisions would need to be based on cogent evidence, 
breach the criminal law. If these are provided, 
taking account of the university’s other duties, including 
it will still be necessary to consider other legal 
those in relation to freedom of speech outlined earlier.
issues such as health and safety concerns.
Public meetings
•  Anti-terrorism legislation contains further 
restrictions, eg in relation to proscribed 
If there are concerns that a meeting will be disrupted, 
organisations and terrorist training.
one option may be to declare the meeting to be a ‘public 
meeting’. Police have further powers in relation to such 
•  If a decision is taken to declare a meeting open 
meetings under the Public Meeting Act 1908 (in England 
to the public, the police have additional powers.
and Wales)17.
•  There can be a requirement to notify the 
Under the Act, it is an offence to act in a disorderly 
police in advance of ‘public processions’.
manner for the purpose of preventing the transaction 
of the business for which a lawful public meeting was 
called. It is also an offence to incite someone to act in 
such a manner.
In Northern Ireland this falls under the Public Order 
(Northern Ireland) Order 1987 (the 1987 Order). Under 
Article 7 of the 1987 Order any person who, at a lawful 
public meeting, acts in a disorderly manner for the 
purposes of preventing the transaction of business for 
which the meeting was called together shall be guilty of 
an offence. A public meeting is defined as any meeting 
in a public place and any meeting which the public or 
any section of the public is permitted to attend, whether 
for payment or otherwise.
17 Article 7 of the Public Order (Northern Ireland) Order 1987 contains similar provisions (see Annexe A).
18  Most but not all parts of the Public Order Act 2006 apply in Scotland. The Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982 applies to public 
processions in Scotland. The equivalent legislation in Northern Ireland is the Public Order (Northern Ireland) Order 1987 which 
governs, inter alia, open-air public meetings. Note that the provisions are not identical to the Public Order Act 1986.

1: A summary of the legal context 
11
The duty of care to staff,  
Civil law claims relating to 
students and visitors
spoken words
Universities have duties under health and safety 
An external speaker can be liable for defamatory 
legislation to ensure, so far as reasonably practicable:
remarks, or those which amount to ‘malicious 
•  the health, safety and welfare at 
falsehood’.
work of their employees
However, concern that defamatory remarks might be 
made by a speaker does not displace the duties on 
•  that they conduct their undertaking in such 
universities to secure freedom of speech, or under 
a way that persons not in their employment 
human rights law. 
who may be affected thereby (eg students, 
external speakers and other visitors) are not 
Defamation law provides a remedy to a person defamed, 
exposed to risks to their health and safety
who can bring proceedings for damages and/or an 
injunction (or in Scotland an interdict) preventing 
defamatory remarks.  Any such injunction would not 
These duties might be relevant if it is anticipated that 
prevent a speaker from being given a platform, but 
protests or violence might take place at an external 
would prevent them from making specified defamatory 
speaker event. Given the other legal obligations that 
remarks.  
universities are under in relation to speaker events, 
it would be advisable for universities to have proper 
The Protection from Harassment Act 199719 also 
evidence to substantiate any concerns in relation to 
enables someone who has been harassed to bring 
health and safety (for example through obtaining advice  civil proceedings for damages, or for an injunction 
from the police, and minuted meetings considering 
or interdict preventing threatened harassment. The 
that advice and any advice from the university’s own 
grounds for such a claim in effect mirror the criminal 
security staff). 
offence created by the Act.20
 Some practical advice 
Data sharing
Where universities wish to share information with the 
The duty of care to staff, students 
police, they can only do so in accordance with the terms 
and visitors
of the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA).
The DPA will also need to be complied with where a 
•  Health and safety obligations need to be taken 
students’ union or society wishes to share personal data 
into account, particularly if there are concerns 
with a university.
about the potential safety of individuals 
involved in a speaker event (whether they 
Ultimately, if there is any doubt as to whether the police 
are speakers, students, staff or visitors).
are entitled to certain information, then a university 
can insist that a court order is obtained by the police 
compelling disclosure. This will address any concern 
over whether the police request is legitimate and 
proportionate, and whether disclosure would be in 
accordance with the DPA.
19 In Northern Ireland the equivalent legislation is the Prevention from Harassment (Northern Ireland) Order 1997.
20  Harassment is not a criminal offence in Scotland in terms of the 1997 Act (although breach of a non-harassment order is), but conduct 
amounting to harassment may be a crime at common law (and prosecuted, for example, as breach of the peace).

12  External speakers in higher education institutions
Charity law
Given the potential civil liability in the event that can 
ensue for wrongful use of the power of arrest, there is 
Under the Charities Act 201121, charities (including 
significantly lower risk for a university if the police carry 
universities and students’ unions) must be established 
out arrests rather than private security staff. However, 
for charitable purposes only. Charitable purposes must 
judgment will need to be exercised on the ground 
meet what is called the ‘public benefit’ requirement 
by properly trained staff, taking account of all the 
(s.2(1)(b)).22
circumstances, including the balance of risks.
The Charity Commission’s non-statutory guidance 
(January 2013) has suggested that under the public 
Students’ unions
benefit requirement, there may be ‘extreme views and 
activities… which may be inappropriate for a charity to 
Students’ unions also need to have regard to the legal 
host or promote’.
frameworks. Whilst they are not public bodies for Public 
Sector Equality Duty23 and Human Rights Act purposes, 
However, although most universities are charities, 
they are mostly charities subject to the requirements of 
universities (in England and Wales) have a clear 
charity law. They also need to have regard to the scope 
statutory duty to secure freedom of speech: s.43 of the 
of the criminal law and potential civil liability in relation 
Education (No 2) Act 1986. The courts would also be 
to external speaker events.
obliged to interpret the Charities Act (and in Scotland 
the 2005 Act) in accordance with the Human Rights Act,  A particular question for universities arises where 
including the Article 10 rights of freedom of expression, 
a students’ union decides that an external speaker 
where any limitation on such rights must be necessary 
event should not proceed, but the university considers 
in a democratic society.
that this decision may conflict with its duty to secure 
freedom of speech within the law under s.43 of the 
Education (No 2) Act 198624 (see ‘Charity law’).
Law relating to security staff
As noted in the section ‘The duty to secure freedom 
Security staff may be called on to assist in the case of 
of speech within the law’, universities’ duty under s.43 
controversial speaking events. In certain circumstances  extends to students’ union premises even if these are 
security staff, like ordinary citizens, do have a power of 
not owned by the university. This means that universities 
arrest. However, there are risks in terms of civil liability 
owe duties in relation to their students’ union premises, 
for wrongful arrest or assault if the power is used 
regardless of whether those premises are, for example, 
inappropriately.  
leased by the union from the university, or indeed from a 
third party.
Reasonable force can be used in preventing crime, or in 
effecting or assisting the lawful arrest of an offender or 
Whilst s.43 undoubtedly places a duty on a university 
persons unlawfully at large, but it would ultimately be 
in relation to the students’ union premises, there is a 
a matter for the court to decide whether the force used 
separate question of how it complies with that duty, 
was ‘reasonable’ in all of the circumstances. If excessive  given that the students’ union is a distinct legal entity 
force has been used, the university and/or security firm 
with its own policies and procedures. There are two 
providing security cover can be vicariously liable for a 
aspects to this question.
civil claim for assault.
21 The equivalent legislation in Northern Ireland is the Charities Act (Northern Ireland) 2008.
22 In Scotland the relevant legislation is the Charity and Trustee Investment (Scotland) Act 2005, which contains a similar public benefit test. 
23 Similarly, students’ unions in Northern Ireland have not been designated for the purposes of section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998.
24 Section 43 applies in England and Wales only, as noted above.

1: A summary of the legal context 
13
The first aspect is whether the s.43 duty also applies 
to the legal entity that is the students’ union25 rather 
Third party bookings of 
than just creating a duty on the part of the university 
university or students’ union 
in respect of speaker events in the students’ union 
premises. The s.43 duty applies to ‘every individual and 
premises
body of persons concerned in the government’ of the 
The legal frameworks can also potentially apply to third 
institution. Whether that definition includes a students’ 
party bookings of university or students’ union premises 
union might be open to legal argument, taking account 
that involve speaker events. Institutions should try to 
of the particular facts, including the legal status of the 
ensure that the contractual terms of such bookings are 
students’ union and its relationship with the institution. 
aligned with the relevant legal obligations to ensure 
The second aspect is that the s.43 code of practice 
that the institution is able to exercise appropriate 
should set out the procedures to be followed by 
contractual rights if necessary to comply with any legal 
students, and should make non-compliance with the 
requirements.
code a disciplinary matter. Under s.43(4) universities 
are under a duty to ‘take such steps as are reasonably 
practicable (including where appropriate the initiation of  Conclusions
disciplinary measures)’ to secure compliance with the 
The legal framework outlined in this section provides 
s.43 code of practice.
institutions with the basis on which their policies and 
Institutions and students’ unions should therefore seek 
decisions should be formulated.
to align their policies and procedures in relation to 
In difficult or controversial cases the key is to determine 
external speakers, taking account of the institution’s 
which legal provisions take precedence, taking account 
s.43 duty.
of all the circumstances. It is impossible to foresee every 
Ultimately, if there is a conflict between the decisions 
situation, although the case studies in this guidance 
taken by a students’ union and those of the institution, 
give some examples of how the legal framework can be 
the institution will need to consider what steps it is 
applied in practice.
‘reasonably practicable’ to take to secure compliance 
There is not space in this guidance to set out all  
with the code of practice and s.43 duty, for example 
the detail behind the legal provisions outlined here.  
through disciplinary action and/or arranging an 
If there is any doubt as to the position, legal advice 
alternative event.26
should be sought.  
The law stated is the law as at 31 August 2013.  
 Some practical advice 
Students’ unions
•  The s.43 duty to secure freedom of speech within 
the law applies to students’ union premises.
•  The s.43 code should make non-compliance a 
disciplinary matter in appropriate circumstances.
•  Universities and students’ unions should 
seek to align their policies, taking 
account of the institution’s s.43 duty.
25  The legal entity may, for example, be a Company Limited by Guarantee, or an unincorporated association consisting of the students’ union 
members and officers. 
26  As noted above, s.43 does not apply in Scotland or Northern Ireland and so universities in these jurisdictions are not subject to a specific 
statutory duty in relation to students’ unions. Nevertheless, Scottish and Northern Irish universities will be able, in practice, to influence 
and effect conduct on students’ unions and the provisions of the Human Rights Act and equality laws apply so as to require Scottish and 
Northern Irish universities to ensure that freedom of expression and the rights of those who may be affected by the exercise of freedom of 
expression are appropriately protected.  

14  External speakers in higher education institutions
2: EFFECTIVE EXTERNAL 
SPEAKER PROCESSES 
Diagram 2: The lifecycle of an external speaker request
External speaker 
policy subjected to 
high-level governance 
and appropriate review 
NB. Request may go to 
Speaker request 
Approved if no major 
students’ union initially 
submitted (NB. May be 
issues identified
before institution (will 
refused if correct process 
depend on agreed 
not followed)
process)
Initial review of speaker 
request 
Internal and external input 
Referred for further 
eg security, police, equality 
consideration
and diversity lead
Request refused
Request approved with 
Request approved – no 
conditions
conditions
Appeal process 
Monitor compliance with 
conditions
Refusal 
Appeal 
Post-event review 
upheld
successful
Modify external 
speaker process if 
necessary

2: Effective external speaker processes 
15
Devising an effective external 
a statutory duty to keep the code up to date). High-level 
governance and appropriate review mechanisms will 
speaker process 
facilitate this. Institutions may wish to follow the steps 
below to ensure effective oversight of their external 
As autonomous organisations, higher education 
speaker policy: 
institutions are free to determine their own internal 
processes for considering external speaker requests. 
•  Include name and contact details of the 
However, in general terms an effective approach might 
appointed individual (responsible officer) 
involve the features outlined in Diagram 3.
with overall responsibility for the policy 
These components are considered in more depth in 
•  Date the policy 
the following sections, as are the mechanisms that 
institutions may wish to consider to ensure that freedom  •  Ensure high-level sign-off of the policy,  
of speech is secured within the law. 
eg university council
•  Determine what factors will trigger a review (such as 
Governance and review of 
legislative changes or an external speaker event not 
external speaker policies
going to plan) and who will conduct such a review
External speakers are fundamental to universities as 
•  Institutions may wish to include a statement 
educational institutions, as well as in their promotion 
confirming that individuals or groups breaching 
of freedom of speech and academic freedom. It is 
the agreed external speakers’ policy will face 
important that policies remain relevant, effective and 
penalties (removal of particular privileges or formal 
up to date (in particular, the code of practice that 
disciplinary proceedings) or, where breaches 
institutions in England and Wales must issue under 
of criminal law occur, referral to the police. 
section 43 of the Education (No 2) Act 1986 is subject to 
Diagram 3: The building blocks of an external speaker process
Good understanding of the 
Clarity, visibility and 
legal context
accessibility to ensure 
policy is followed (clearly 
stated sanctions for those 
High-level governance, 
who breach agreed policy 
reviewed when necessary  
[s.43]) 
Building blocks 
Consideration of mitigating 
of an effective 
actions that will enable the 
external speaker 
A clear process for 
external speaker event to 
process
submitting and assessing 
proceed within the law
external speaker requests  
Escalation of high-risk 
or controversial speaker 
Good relationships with 
requests – input sought 
police, local authority 
from relevant experts on & 
and community groups to 
off campus
support decision making

16  External speakers in higher education institutions
Diagram 4: External speaker policy review process
Signed off by university 
External speaker policy 
governing body/council or 
drafted and dated
equivalent
Various factors may prompt a 
Policy reviewed when 
review, eg legislative changes, 
necessary
issues arising at an event 
External speaker policy 
modified
POINTS TO CONSIDER WHEN 
Clarity, visibility and 
REVIEWING YOUR EXTERNAL SPEAKER 
communication of external 
PROCESSES: GOVERNANCE
speaker policies
•  Is the policy dated?
It is important to ensure external speaker policies are 
•  When was the policy reviewed? 
visible and easily accessible. Institutions may wish to 
•  What details are included relating to the individual 
follow the steps below to achieve this. 
with ultimate oversight for the policy and decision-
1.  Maximise the accessibility of external speaker 
making authority (name, contact details)? 
policies by communicating them via a number of 
•  Does the policy state that individuals 
internal and external channels, including but not  
or organisations that fail to adhere 
limited to:
to it will face sanctions? 
•  intranet 
•  staff handbooks 
•  induction processes for new staff where the 
external speaker policy has relevance to their role  
•  student handbooks
•  guidelines on good campus relations 

2: Effective external speaker processes 
17
•  the students’ union and students’ societies
 
− that reasonable steps cannot be taken to 
prevent the speaker from encouraging, 
•  institutional website (publicly accessible)
assisting or committing criminal acts 
•  individuals responsible for room bookings/
 
− that reasonable steps cannot be taken to prevent 
timetabling/conferences/events
the speaker from putting forward views or ideas 
that unlawfully infringe the rights of others  or 
unlawfully breach the institution’s equality duties
2.  Make clear the scope and coverage of the policy, 
who it applies to and what is meant by an external or 
5.  Institutions might wish to include or append case 
outside speaker.
studies of situations (hypothetical or real) where 
3.  Clearly state in the external speaker policy who  
external speakers would be (or have been) refused a 
has ultimate responsibility for the policy and  
platform. 
external speaker decisions – include contact  
6.  To aid clarity, policies might state that controversial, 
details and job title.
offensive or distasteful views which are not unlawful 
4.  Make clear that in some circumstances, after full 
per se would not normally constitute reasonable 
consideration of possible mitigating actions, there 
grounds for refusing an external speaker request. 
may be grounds for refusing a request; example 
grounds may include: 
POINTS TO CONSIDER WHEN 
•  That the speaker professes to belong to a 
REVIEWING YOUR EXTERNAL  
proscribed organisation, or (following appropriate 
SPEAKER PROCESSES:  
information gathering, and potentially seeking 
CLARITY AND ACCESSIBILITY
express assurances from the speaker/organisers if 
appropriate) it is believed the speaker is intending to 
•  How accessible is the policy? 
invite support for such an organisation or its activities
•  Could the policy be made more widely 
• 
available by utilising additional channels?
That having obtained and considered input as 
appropriate (eg from the institution’s security 
•  What measures are in place to communicate 
office, estates office and/or police/other emergency 
the policy to student societies?
services) it is believed to be in the interests of public 
•  Is the university event (conference) 
safety, the prevention of disorder or crime or the 
management team aware of the policy? 
protection of those persons lawfully on university-
controlled premises that the event does not take place
•  Does the policy include any details of who 
it applies to and which premises? 
•  That following appropriate input from 
•  Would examples of scenarios where requests 
relevant bodies and consideration of available 
may be refused provide additional clarity? 
evidence the institution has concluded: 
 
− that reasonable steps cannot be taken 
to prevent the speaker from expressing 
views that are contrary to the law

18  External speakers in higher education institutions
The components of a structured,  Agreed timeframes
staged and consistent process 
•  State the required timeframe for submitting 
an external speaker request (for example, 
for considering external speaker  all requests to be made no less than [x] 
requests  
working days before the scheduled event)
•  Highlight that bookings submitted outside of 
In broad terms, there are three stages of the external 
the agreed timeframes will not be authorised 
speaker process, as outlined below. These three stages 
to take place on university premises 
will apply to all requests but Stage 2 in particular will 
(except in exceptional circumstances) 
differ depending on the risks identified with a specific 
request. Stage 2 will be brief for straightforward 
•  State the timeframe for approving or refusing 
requests but will involve more extensive consideration 
external speaker requests and how the decision 
for requests that appear controversial or high risk. 
will be communicated (for example, a decision 
Stage 1: Submission of speaker request
will be made within [x] working days and will be 
communicated in writing to the principal organiser) 
Stage 2: Review of speaker request – identification and 
mitigation of possible risks
Use of agreed documentation  
Stage 3: Communication of an external speaker 
to make a speaker request
decision 
•  State how requests must be made and the 
Stage 1: Submission of speaker 
timeframe for doing so (for example external speaker 
request to be submitted using a standardised 
request
booking form no more than [x] working days 
before the event is scheduled to take place)
This is the stage that enables an institution to obtain 
relevant information on the proposed speaker and event.  •  Include information on how to access the relevant 
This information will then be used to assess whether 
documents for making an external speaker 
the speaker or event is likely to operate within the 
request (for example, signpost individuals 
framework of the law (Stage 2). 
to relevant area on university intranet) 
It is important to allow appropriate time to consider 
whether external speaker events are likely to proceed 
within the framework of the law. Agreeing the process 
POINTS TO CONSIDER WHEN 
and timeframe for submitting a request and stating this 
REVIEWING YOUR EXTERNAL SPEAKER 
clearly in the external speaker policy may help achieve 
PROCESSES: MAKING A DECISION 1
this. Institutions may wish to adopt the following steps 
to facilitate this: 
•  What information is given on the timeframe 
within which external speaker requests 
Identifying a responsible individual for each external 
must be submitted and responded to? 
speaker request
•  What information is given on how external 
•  Identify an appointed ‘principal organiser’ for 
speaker requests must be made and 
each booking request who has responsibility for 
where relevant forms can be accessed? 
ensuring the request meets agreed requirements
•  Restrict the advertising of an external 
speaker event until approved 

2: Effective external speaker processes 
19
Content of standardised external  
•  Any other reason known to the principal organiser 
speaker request form
or others involved in organising the event as 
Individual institutions will devise their own external 
to why issues may arise with that speaker. 
speaker request form. It should contain questions to 
Has there been any controversy attracted by 
identify events and speakers that may be controversial 
the speaker in the past? (If so this may trigger 
or problematic. Some suggested fields that institutions 
contact with the university press office.)
may wish to include are:
•  Will members of the press, TV or radio be permitted 
•  Name and contact details of principal organiser
to attend?
•  Name and details of visiting speaker – what 
•  Is the event being sponsored? If so, who by?  
organisation, if any, do they represent? Have 
Will advertising appear at it?
they spoken at the institution before or at 
another higher education institution?
Notifying an agreed representative of potential 
•  Date, time and place of meeting or activity  
controversy
It is important that potential problems are identified at 
•  Expected timing of the arrival and departure of any 
the earliest opportunity. To facilitate this, an external 
speaker together with details of the proposed entry 
speaker policy might also make clear to principal 
and exit of the speaker to the event venue (this may 
organisers:
be more important in some cases than others, 
particularly where there are security concerns)
•  that they are expected to highlight at the 
earliest opportunity any grounds for believing 
•  Overview of the event – subject matter, 
that a speaker will be controversial or will 
appointed chairperson, what language 
potentially commit a criminal offence 
the event will take place in  
•  the individual to whom any concerns should be raised  
•  What topic will the external speaker be talking about?
Notifying an agreed representative of a material 
•  How will the event be advertised and in what 
change to the booking
language? (some institutions request draft 
copy of materials advertising the event) 
Occasionally an external speaker booking may change 
after the booking has been approved. This might involve 
•  What publications or materials (CDs, DVDs) 
a change to the agreed speaker or event structure. It 
will be available to event attendees?
is important that organisers notify the institution of 
material changes. To assist with this, external speaker 
•  The numbers expected to attend (staff, students, 
policies may include the following components:
members of the university, guests, general public)
•  A statement highlighting that principal organisers 
•  Conditions applying to the event (Will it be 
must notify an agreed representative if an 
ticketed? Open to the public? Is there any 
approved speaker is replaced or other material 
intention to segregate the event?) For further 
changes occur to the proposed event
information on this issue please see the 
• 
EHRC publication Gender Segregation at 
A statement making clear that the institution 
Events and Meetings. Guidance for Universities 
reserves the right to review an external 
speaker decision if further information 
and Students’ Unions.
emerges about the proposed event 
•  Do principal organisers have any reason to 
believe that there may be a threat of disruption 
caused by the proposed meeting or activity 
and what is the substance of that threat?

20  External speakers in higher education institutions
•  Has the speaker spoken at the institution or 
POINTS TO CONSIDER WHEN 
another higher education institution previously? 
REVIEWING YOUR EXTERNAL SPEAKER 
What is known about him or her? Are there 
PROCESSES: MAKING A DECISION 2
grounds to suspect that the individual may 
speak outside the parameters of the law? 
•  Are there any questions on the list on page 
19 which might be useful additions to 
•  Will hosting the speaker have public order 
your external speaker booking form? 
implications, risk injury to attendees or damage 
•  What information is given on notifying the 
to university or any other property?29 Is there 
institution of material changes to an approved 
the potential for serious health and safety 
booking (such as a change in speaker)? 
issues to arise? Is it likely that the presence 
of the speaker will prompt protests?
•  Who is attending the event? Is it restricted to 
Stage 2: Review of speaker 
staff and students of the institution only or 
request
will it be open to the public? Is it likely that the 
presence of the speaker will prompt specific 
groups or individuals to attend the event?
The review of every external speaker request must 
involve consideration of the full legal context that 
•  What security provisions are in place? Are these 
applies to such activity. The legal framework is non-
sufficient? Will sufficient security staff be available?
negotiable and is summarised in Part 1 of this guidance 
and explored in depth in Annexe A.  
•  Will hosting the speaker have reputational 
The majority of external speaker requests will be 
risks for the institution? Is the event likely 
relatively straightforward and easy to assess – in these 
to attract media attention and if so how can 
cases, the review process will be short and simple. 
the university manage this effectively? 
Others may require further consideration to assess 
whether speakers are likely to contravene the law and 
•  Has the speaker agreed to abide 
whether mitigating actions will satisfactorily address the 
by the institution’s values?
risk of this happening. 
•  What materials will be available at the event 
The following questions may be of relevance in 
(eg leaflets, DVDs, CDs, memory sticks)?
determining whether to approve, refuse or escalate a 
speaker request:
•  Does the proposed external speaker have links 
POINTS TO CONSIDER WHEN 
to or represent a proscribed terror group or 
REVIEWING YOUR EXTERNAL SPEAKER 
organisation (as per the Home Office list27) or 
PROCESSES: MAKING A DECISION 3
feature on HM Treasury’s list of organisations 
subject to government sanctions?28
•  Using the legal overview in Diagram 1 on 
page 4 as a guide, are there any areas 
•  What is the topic of the event? Is the event title 
of the law that staff making external 
or subject matter likely to be controversial or 
speaker decisions are unfamiliar with? 
cause distress to anyone? Will both sides of the 
argument be presented? Has an event been run 
•  Is there a well-communicated and 
on this topic by the university previously?
structured process in place to escalate 
external speaker requests that appear 
•  Who is chairing the meeting? Are they sufficiently 
to be high risk or controversial? 
qualified to provide balance and challenge 
during the event? What is their stance on the 
topic under discussion and is this likely to 
impact the smooth running of the event? 
27 The list can be found on www.gov.uk – listed as ‘Proscribed Terror Groups or Organisations’.
28 The list can be found on www.gov.uk – listed as ‘Consolidated List of Financial Sanctions Targets in the UK’.
29  If damage to public property is likely this is not the responsibility of the institution, but this information will be of relevance to the police and 
local authority. 

2: Effective external speaker processes 
21
Escalation processes
In most circumstances, reviewing external speaker 
POINTS TO CONSIDER WHEN 
requests will be relatively straightforward. However, in 
REVIEWING YOUR EXTERNAL SPEAKER 
some cases, there may be indications that the planned 
PROCESSES: MAKING A DECISION 4
event is higher risk. In such cases, institutions may 
wish to consider taking additional steps to inform their 
•  Would creating a dedicated internal group 
decision, as follows:
assist with making decisions on the most 
complicated external speaker requests? 
•  Seek input both internally and externally on 
the external speaker request. Depending 
•  Using the list on this page as a guide, are 
on the circumstances of a specific request, 
there any individuals or organisations that your 
input may be appropriate from:
institution might usefully involve in external 
speaker decisions in particular circumstances? 
 
− Principal organiser of the event
•  What links currently exist with community 
 
− Head of university security
groups, police and the local authority and 
 
− Vice-chancellor/registrar/secretary/
are these links used to assist with external 
academic registrar
speaker decisions where necessary? 
 
− Local police
 
− President of students’ union
The mitigation of identified risks 
 
− Equality and diversity lead
In general, institutions can respond in one of three ways 
 
− Head of communications
to an external speaker request: (i) approve the request, 
 
− University chaplain 
(ii) approve the request on the proviso that specific 
conditions are met, or (i i) refuse the request. 
 
− Heads of student societies 
A range of options are available to institutions in 
 
− BIS regional Prevent coordinators 
managing identified risks which will enable the external 
 
− The proposed speaker (to get a clearer idea of what  speaker event to go ahead in accordance with the law. 
they intend to say; this may include obtaining an 
The appropriateness of individual mitigating actions 
advance copy of their speech or presentation) 
will depend on the specific event under consideration, 
the nature of the potential issues identified and other 
 
− Community groups
factors such as the risk appetite of the institution. 
 
− Local authority 
Examples of mitigating actions that institutions might 
 
− Information already held by the university 
decide to take include: 
about the speaker or event organisers 
•  Varying the time and location of the 
 
− Higher education institutions known to have 
event from the original plan
hosted or refused the speaker previously
•  Approving a request on the condition that a 
 
− Individuals with relevant legal expertise
particular individual chairs the event
•  Making the event ticketed only or specifying 
•  Form an internal working group to assist with 
that attendees must show valid ID 
particularly controversial or difficult requests.30
•  Opening the event up to the general public
•  Engage with different groups on campus to 
discuss specific external speaker requests. 
•  Requesting an advance copy of the guest list 
for review before the event takes place
30  Two examples are LSE’s Free Speech Group and St George’s, University of London’s Promoting Good Campus Relations 
Advisory Group. Further details can be found at http://www.lse.ac.uk/intranet/LSEServices/governanceAndCommittees/
committeesAndWorkingGroups/freeSpeechGroup/termsOfReference.aspx and http://www.sgul.ac.uk/about-st-georges/planning-
secretariat-office/secretariat-office/equality-and-diversity/docs-2012/promoting-good-campus-relations-policy-1.pdf

22  External speakers in higher education institutions
•  Placing restrictions on the numbers 
•  Requiring invited speaker(s) to confirm that 
able to attend or restricting the event to 
they will abide by the university’s values or 
university staff and students only
good campus relations policy or providing 
speakers with a copy of such documents
•  Enhancing security arrangements including possible 
police attendance, minimum number of stewards
•  Clearly stating at the start of the event 
that the speakers and audience must 
•  Imposing conditions on how the event is advertised 
act in accordance with the law
(eg promotional material to contain translations if 
in a language not understood by university staff)
•  Restricting what materials are available at the 
event (CDs, DVDs, leaflets, memory sticks)
•  Mandatory attendance of specified senior 
university representatives to maintain order 
Stage 3: Communication of an 
•  Making a translator available to 
external speaker decision 
university staff attending the event 
External speaker decisions should be clearly 
•  Refusing admission to media representatives 
communicated to the principal organiser of an event. 
(press, radio, television) 
Institutions may wish to incorporate the following into 
their external speaker policies to achieve this: 
•  Restricting the display of banners or placards 
at the event and its immediate surrounds 
•  Describe how decisions will be communicated 
and the timeframe within which this will happen 
•  Restricting the sale of alcohol or 
– for example, ‘external speaker decisions will 
consumption of food at the event
be communicated in writing to the principal 
organiser within [x] working days of the request’
•  Imposing conditions on how the event is 
run in relation to specific requests such as 
•  Inform principal organisers of any 
a request to segregate the audience
conditions that apply to the event 
•  Imposing special arrangements on how 
•  Circulate a copy of their promoting good 
the event or meeting is chaired 
campus relations policy to invited speakers 
•  Requesting a script or précis from the speaker 
•  Require that speakers confirm in writing that 
outlining what they intend to say and requiring them 
they understand and will abide by the university’s 
to sign an undertaking acknowledging that their 
values (an alternative may be to develop 
speech will be terminated if they deviate from it
specific guidelines for external speakers which 
invited speakers must agree to abide by) 
•  Briefing the chair in advance of the event, making 
clear that they have a responsibility to ensure that 
•  Highlight in the decision letter that 
no speaker or other person present at the event 
individuals have a right to appeal 
infringes the law; this briefing could highlight the 
circumstances under which they must stop the event,  Appealing a decision
issue warnings to participants on their conduct or 
request the withdrawal or removal by stewards (or 
External speaker policies might also include information 
the police if necessary) of the person(s) concerned 
on the process for appealing a refusal decision. 

2: Effective external speaker processes 
23
POINTS TO CONSIDER WHEN 
Effective management of an 
REVIEWING YOUR EXTERNAL SPEAKER 
external speaker event 
PROCESSES: COMMUNICATING AN 
EXTERNAL SPEAKER DECISION
Although institutions take many pre-emptive steps 
to ensure events occur within the framework of the 
•  What information is given on the timeframe 
law, occasionally things do not go to plan and action 
for communicating an external speaker 
is required during the course of the event. Examples 
decision and the mode of communication 
include attempts to disrupt the event, unexpected 
that will be used to do so? 
guests appearing, inappropriate material being made 
•  Is any information given on appealing 
available at the event, or views expressed by the speaker 
an external speaker decision? 
or an audience member falling outside of the law. 
In such circumstances, there are a number of options 
institutions may wish to consider, including:
Reviewing an external speaker 
•  Delaying the start of the event
decision on the basis of new 
•  Moving the event to a different location
information
•  Issuing clear verbal warnings to 
Sometimes external speaker decisions may have to be 
individuals attempting to disrupt the 
reviewed on the basis of new information or material 
event (usually by the event chair)
changes occurring to the planned event, for example 
• 
a change in speaker, increased risk of disorder or 
Requesting that individuals leave the event 
information from the police or community. This new 
or instructing security (or the police if 
information may determine whether an event is 
necessary) to remove them from the event 
cancelled or whether further mitigating actions are 
•  Warning individuals that sanctions apply to those 
required to address the new risks.  
impeding freedom of speech within the law
There are several steps that institutions may wish to 
take to facilitate the reporting of potential difficulties:
•  Postponing the event and rearranging it under 
different circumstances and conditions
•  Instructing principal organisers that they 
have a duty to notify the institution of a 
•  Stopping the event part-way through
material change to an event booking 
•  Cancelling the event
•  Making public the contact details of the 
individual who has responsibility for the 
•  Notifying the university press office and vice-
institution’s external speaker policy
chancellor of any developments that may attract 
media attention so they can prepare for this 
•  Building good links with the police 
and community groups 
As mentioned previously, any decision will need to be 
made in compliance with the relevant legal frameworks. 
Where events do not go to plan, institutions may wish 
to consider reviewing their processes to ensure that 
similar problems do not arise in future. 
31  St George’s, University of London issues ‘Guidance for all speakers at SGUL’ which both the event organiser and external speaker must 
sign to confirm they have read and understood the guidance and agree to abide by it.

24  External speakers in higher education institutions
Alignment of policies with the 
booking requests to the students’ union president or 
nominee. The students’ union and institution should 
students’ union
agree the criteria for identifying which bookings 
should be shared. For example, it might apply to 
Universities UK’s 2011 report Freedom of speech on 
any external speaker bookings lodged by a student 
campus: rights and responsibilities in UK universities 
or person acting on behalf of a student society. 
recommended that higher education institutions should: 
Alternatively, an institution might agree to share 
Review current protocols/policies on speaker 
copies of all external speaker invitations (ie speakers 
meetings to ensure they are up to date and relevant, 
the institution has approved) to the president of the 
and are aligned with the students’ union’s protocols 
students’ union or only those that appear contentious. 
and policies.
•  Where appropriate, institutions should seek 
Individual institutions will have different processes 
input from the students’ union in relation to 
in place in terms of the role of students’ unions in 
potentially controversial speakers, particularly 
managing external speaker requests made by student 
if their presence on campus is likely to be of 
societies. In some cases, external speaker requests for 
interest to particular student societies.
events organised by student societies are submitted 
directly to the president of the students’ union within 
•  Institutions and students’ unions should work 
agreed timeframes. The students’ union then conducts 
together to ensure that the institutions retain 
an initial vetting of the request to identify risks before 
an accurate knowledge of which student 
referring the request to the associated institution and 
societies are registered and approved. 
where necessary raising concerns about impediments 
to proposed events, safety concerns or the likelihood of 
•  Institutions and students’ unions should 
a breach of the law. In other cases, institutions might 
engage in joint scenario planning to identify 
require all external speaker bookings that involve the 
potentially problematic issues and make 
use of university-owned facilities to come directly to the 
effective contingency plans for them.
university. 
•  Institutions and students’ unions may wish 
Aligning students’ union and institutional processes is 
to develop joint guidelines for engaging 
not always easy as the two may differ in their approach 
with sensitive and controversial issues. This 
to individual speakers. This is particularly true where 
might include tips on agreeing a suitable title 
a students’ union has a ‘no platform’ policy and their 
for a debate, selecting a suitable chair and 
associated institution does not. Case study 1 in Part 3 
facilitating a balanced view of issues. 
(page 26) examines this in more depth. 
However, wherever possible, higher education 
•  Regular liaison between the institution 
institutions and students’ unions should work closely 
and the students’ union will also provide a 
together. The following steps may facilitate this: 
mechanism to discuss any student society 
events taking place off campus that are causing 
•  Regular liaison and discussion of external 
concern (good community links will help 
speaker policies should take place between the 
bring these to the institution’s attention).
associated institution and the students’ union, 
including students’ union input during any review 
•  Institutions may wish to consider developing and 
of the institution’s external speaker policy. 
maintaining good relationships with individual 
student societies so that any concerns around 
•  In circumstances where student societies make their 
external speakers can be raised directly with them.
external speaker requests directly to the institution, 
it may be appropriate to circulate copies of external 

2: Effective external speaker processes 
25
The institution’s contract with the external or 
POINTS TO CONSIDER WHEN 
commercial client should be drafted to include 
REVIEWING YOUR EXTERNAL SPEAKER 
appropriate contractual terms, in relation to both 
PROCESSES:  WORKING WITH THE 
expected behaviour from speakers and the audience, 
STUDENTS’ UNION 
and in terms of the institution’s rights in the event that 
such terms are breached.
•  Does the policy refer to the processes that 
student societies must follow when making 
an external speaker booking request for 
Good relationships with the 
an event on university premises? 
police, local authority and 
•  Does the policy include any involvement 
community groups
from a students’ union representative (eg the 
president) in relation to potentially controversial 
Good relationships with the police, local authority and 
external speaker requests submitted to 
community groups can provide invaluable support to 
the institution by student societies? 
institutions in making informed decisions on external 
speakers, particularly those that are higher-risk. 
Regular liaison may also help to identify issues before 
Speakers at events booked 
they escalate to a serious level. 
by external individuals or 
organisations 
It is common for universities to make their facilities 
available to external organisations for commercial 
and non-commercial events. These events may 
involve invited speakers who must act within the law. 
Institutions may wish to consider taking the following 
steps to help manage these risks:
•  Ask external or commercial clients to confirm that 
they will abide by the university’s values (seek this 
confirmation when agreeing a contract with the client)
•  Ensure that individuals who manage bookings 
from external organisations are familiar with the 
university’s external speaker policy and know who 
to contact in the event of any issues arising 
•  Consider developing an ‘expected 
behaviours contract’ for external clients 
that are using university facilities 
•  Bar organisations and individuals that 
fail to abide with the university’s values 
from booking facilities in future

26  External speakers in higher education institutions
3: EXTERNAL SPEAKER CASE STUDIES
The following case studies illustrate 
are planning to protest outside the event venue and 
the factors that institutions must 
rumours that they intend to disrupt the event itself by 
storming the venue. 
consider and balance in relation 
Separately, there are unsubstantiated rumours within 
to external speakers in a range of 
the local community that the English Defence League 
different scenarios. 
(EDL) is considering attending the event to promote its 
own policies. There is no suggestion that the local EDL 
The case studies highlight some of the legal and 
has any links with the proposed BNP speaker. The event 
practical issues that might arise, but are not intended as  is open to the public and tickets will be allocated on a 
a substitute for legal advice. Each scenario depends on 
first come, first served basis on the night. 
the particular facts, and the analysis cannot necessarily  Things to consider
be applied to other cases. Also, any analysis can change 
if additional information comes to light.
Legal framework – points likely to be particularly relevant
•  Rights of freedom of expression.
CASE STUDY 1:
•  The section 43 (s.43) duty to secure freedom of 
NO PLATFORM POLICY
speech within the law applies to the institution 
(if in England and Wales). A students’ union ‘no 
In advance of a general election, the Politics 
platform’ policy will not override the s.43 duty.
Department of the university is organising a series 
of seminars featuring representatives from a range 
•  Public order issues as well as safety of speakers, 
of political parties and covering a broad spectrum 
staff, students and others will need to be 
of political views. One of the events will focus on the 
considered at all stages and kept under review.
policies and views of the British National Party (BNP). 
•  Whilst there is no suggestion on the basis of the 
The university’s students’ union has a ‘no platform’ 
facts outlined above that the speaker is intending to 
policy and the BNP is on the union’s list of organisations 
breach other laws, eg the criminal law, those involved 
that will be denied a platform to speak. The event will 
in making decisions and those responsible for the 
be held in a lecture theatre in the university’s main city 
event will need to take account of all relevant legal 
centre campus.
issues throughout the decision-making process 
Since the decision was taken to invite the BNP, 
and at the seminar itself (assuming it proceeds).  
there has been increasing unrest on campus with a 
number of student groups expressing their opposition 
•  Equality obligations, including having due 
to the invitation. There are indications that several 
regard to the Public Sector Equality Duty.

3: External speaker case studies 
27
Other practical considerations
CASE STUDY 2:
•  The institution should be in dialogue 
SPEAKER WITH CONTROVERSIAL 
with the students’ union to ensure it 
VIEWS AND CHARITY LEGISLATION
understands the nature of the s.43 duty.
•  Public order implications – will protest 
The university’s law faculty is organising a series of 
arise and what impact will it have?
events exploring different concepts of justice and 
different types of punishment. The events are supported 
•  Security considerations – do they 
by the university’s Law Society and will be open to 
outweigh the s.43 duty? 
all students and staff. Different events will cover the 
concepts of restorative justice, retributive justice and 
•  Freedom from harassment – will the speaker 
debate the pros and cons of the death penalty. The 
agree to adhere to university values?
events will not only examine the UK’s justice system but 
explore the justice systems of other countries.
•  The BNP is not a proscribed group.
It is planned that the event covering retributive justice 
•  What is known about the speaker and the proposed 
will feature a well-known proponent of Sharia Law. 
content of the seminar? If there are concerns on the 
Originally from Saudi Arabia, he has previously caused 
basis of the evidence obtained about whether the 
controversy with some well-publicised remarks calling 
content might breach any legislation, have adequate 
for the introduction of Sharia Law in Britain. He has 
steps been taken, eg to seek appropriate written 
also expressed controversial views stating that women 
assurances from the speaker or organisers?
should not have the right to vote or hold political office. 
The speaker has only been invited to speak about Sharia 
•  Does a guest list need to be established 
Law and not the role of women in society. Nonetheless, 
to manage attendees?
some concerns have been expressed that the speaker 
does not reflect the values of democracy and equality 
•  Should the event be a closed event 
and should not be given a platform to speak. Others 
and not a public one?
have said that allowing him a platform will damage the 
institution’s reputation as a charity. 
•  What liaison with the police has happened? 
The planned structure of the event is for the speaker 
•  Do discussions need to take place 
to talk for 20 minutes, setting out his views on why 
with the local authority?
he believes retributive justice is effective. This will be 
followed by a 40-minute question and answer session 
•  Who is chairing the event and are 
during which attendees will be given the opportunity to 
they sufficiently experienced?
reflect on the validity of the speaker’s comments and 
question him further on his views. The event is following 
•  Is the event likely to generate media coverage? 
the same structure as the other events in the series. 
Do the press office and senior management 
team or vice-chancellor need to be informed?

28  External speakers in higher education institutions
Things to consider
CASE STUDY 3:
Legal framework – points likely to be particularly relevant
ISRAEL AND PALESTINE
•  Freedom of expression and (in England 
and Wales) the s.43 duty. 
A prominent academic well known for his pro-
•  Interaction with charity law. Whilst concern has 
Palestinian views and vocal criticism of Israel has been 
been expressed at the institution’s reputation as a 
invited to speak at an event organised by the university’s 
charity, in the absence of a particular charity law 
Palestinian Society. He has frequently spoken publicly 
obligation being contravened, the s.43 duty will not be  in support of sanctions against Israel. The university’s 
overridden. Similar reputational concerns are likely 
Jewish Society and representatives from the local 
to arise in relation to some of the other case studies. 
synagogue have expressed their concerns about the 
event to senior university management. Articles have 
•  Whilst there is no suggestion on the basis of the 
appeared in the student newspaper implying that 
facts outlined above that the speaker is intending 
protests are likely and that attempts may be made to 
to breach other laws, eg the criminal law or the 
disrupt the event. The local rabbi has written to the 
Equality Act’s harassment provisions, those involved 
local newspaper expressing his concerns. Some have 
in making decisions and those responsible for the 
accused the proposed speaker of supporting violent 
event will need to take account of all relevant legal 
means. 
issues throughout the decision-making process 
and at the event itself (assuming it proceeds).  
The event, as planned, will be open to staff and students 
of the university only. The intention is for the president of 
•  Equality law: the institution will also need to take 
the Palestinian Society to chair the event. He is relatively 
into account the Equality Act, including its Public 
new in post and has little experience of chairing events 
Sector Equality Duty obligations, when making 
of this nature. There are currently no other events 
decisions about the event. On the basis of the facts 
planned that will explore alternative views of the Israel-
as presented, there is no suggestion that the speaker  Palestine conflict.
intends to breach the Equality Act. The institution 
The event proceeds but during the course of the event 
would need to review any decision if the facts 
there are concerted attempts to shout the speaker down 
changed, or when more information is obtained.
and prevent him from speaking. Warnings are issued 
and several individuals are asked to leave the event (and 
Other practical considerations
do so voluntarily). 
•  Have discussions taken place with the speaker to 
Things to consider
ascertain what he intends to cover? Has he been 
asked to focus solely on Sharia Law as opposed 
Legal framework – points likely to be particularly relevant
to issues of equality and women’s rights? 
•  The speaker is accused by some of having 
supported ‘violent means’. The details of what is 
•  Public order considerations – are there 
alleged and the evidence behind the allegations 
health and safety implications?
are unclear, but the institution will need to bear in 
mind the provisions of the criminal law (including 
•  Who is chairing and do they have the 
anti-terrorism legislation) when seeking further 
capacity to do so effectively?
information in relation to a proposed event such 
as this. For example, particular offences apply in 
•  Is there sufficient scope for challenge?
relation to hate crime on racial and religious grounds, 
and in relation to ‘proscribed organisations’.
•  Is the event likely to generate media coverage? 
Do the press office and senior management 
•  Safety and public order issues will 
team or vice-chancellor need to be informed?
need to be considered.

3: External speaker case studies 
29
•  The meeting is not a public meeting, but a decision 
Other practical considerations
could have been taken to declare the meeting 
•  What security arrangements are in place?
public in order to bring the meeting within the 
provisions of the Public Meeting Act (in England 
•  Who is chairing the event and are they 
and Wales). It is a judgment call as to whether 
suitably equipped to do so?
an institution should take such a step, taking 
account of all of the circumstances. On the basis 
•  Health and safety of staff, students and speaker(s) 
of the facts above, those attempting to shout the 
– are sufficient measures in place to ensure safety? 
speaker down left voluntarily, so it appears that 
Are there other public order considerations? 
on this occasion this issue was capable of being 
managed without needing to take further steps 
•  Should the event be public? Should it be ticketed? 
to secure freedom of speech within the law.
•  Will any disruption spill over into 
•  If those shouting down the speaker had not left when 
the local community?
asked, but had prevented the speaker from speaking, 
the institution would need to consider what further 
•  Should the scope of the event be 
steps might be taken to secure freedom of speech 
broadened, eg turned into a debate? 
within the law. These might include disciplinary 
sanctions, or potentially asking the police to intervene  •  What is known about the speaker? Has he 
in relation to any breach of the peace. The police 
supported violence? Has he spoken elsewhere?
could also intervene in relation to any breach of the 
Public Meeting Act, if the meeting had been declared 
•  What action will be taken against those seeking 
public. Obviously careful judgment would need to 
to prevent the speaker from speaking?
be exercised in light of the developing situation.
•  Is the event likely to generate media coverage? 
•  Presumably the speaker is a visiting academic 
Do the press office and senior management 
from another institution, but if he were an 
team or vice-chancellor need to be informed?
employee of the host institution then any dealings 
with him would also need to take account of 
his and the institution’s rights and obligations 
under the academic contract of employment.

30  External speakers in higher education institutions
•  There is no indication whether the reported ‘views’ 
CASE STUDY 4:
might, if repeated, amount to harassment under 
EXTERNAL ORGANISATION BOOKING 
either the Equality Act or the Protection from 
UNIVERSITY PREMISES
Harassment Act. The university will need to consider 
those issues further if appropriate from the evidence 
or from further information which comes to light.
A local Pentecostal church has approached the 
university about using university facilities for regular 
•  Assuming the university enters into the proposed 
evening meetings which will be open to staff and 
arrangement with the church, it is advisable 
students of the university and the general public. 
for the terms of the arrangement to include 
The church will require use of the premises for a 12-
appropriate provisions to ensure that the university’s 
week period whilst significant renovations are carried 
reputation and rights are adequately protected. 
out to their usual venue. The pastor at the church 
has previously been reported in the local media as 
Other practical considerations
expressing negative views on homosexuality during 
sermons.  
•  Will the church, its pastor and its congregation 
abide by the university’s values?
Things to consider
•  What oversight can there be of proceedings 
Legal framework – points likely to be particularly relevant
during the 12-week period they will be 
•  The Public Order Act creates offences in relation 
using the university’s premises?
to various acts committed with the intention to stir 
up hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation. 
•  Is the event likely to generate media coverage? 
However, the Act also provides that ‘the discussion 
Do the press office and senior management 
or criticism of sexual conduct or practices or the 
team or vice-chancellor need to be informed?
urging of persons to refrain from or modify such 
conduct or practices shall not be taken of itself to 
be threatening or intended to stir up hatred.’ The 
university will need to bear these provisions in 
mind, as well as the other legal frameworks 
(eg the Equality Act, which also contains certain 
exceptions in relation to religious organisations).

Annexe A: Legal considerations 
31
ANNEXE A: LEGAL CONSIDERATIONS
This annexe is not intended as a 
Where a students’ union occupies premises which are 
substitute for legal advice, but is 
not the university’s premises, s.43(8) provides that the 
university nonetheless be required to comply with the 
intended to explore the legal issues 
s.43 duties in relation to the students’ union premises.
which might need to be considered in  S.43(3) requires universities with a view to discharging 
the context of external speaker events.  their s.43(1) duties to: 
It provides further information on 
‘issue and keep up to date a code of practice setting out 
some of the key issues set out in the 
(a) the procedures to be followed by members, students 
legal summary in Part 1.
and employees of the establishment in connection with the 
organisation 
(i) of meetings which are to be held on premises of the 
Freedom of speech
establishment and which fall within any class of meeting 
specified in the code; and
Freedom of speech within higher education institutions 
(i ) of other activities which are to take place on those 
is closely associated with the academic freedom that 
premises and which fall within any class of activity so 
they enjoy. Section 43(1) of the Education (No 2) Act 
specified; and
1986 imposes an express duty on institutions in England 
and Wales, in relation to staff, students and visiting 
(b) the conduct required of such persons in connection with 
speakers:
any such meeting or activity; and dealing with such other 
matters as the governing body consider appropriate.’
’Every individual and body of persons concerned in 
the government of any establishment to which this 
S.43(4) requires every individual and body of persons 
section applies shall take such steps as are reasonably 
concerned in the government of a university to: 
practicable to ensure that freedom of speech within the 
‘… take such steps as are reasonably practicable 
law is secured for members, students and employees of 
(including where appropriate the initiation of disciplinary 
the establishment and for visiting speakers.’
measures) to secure that the requirements of the 
S.43(2) clarifies that the duty extends to use of 
code of practice for that establishment, issued under 
university premises. It provides that the above duty 
subsection (3) above, are complied with.’
includes in particular the duty: 
The section 43 duty does not apply in Scotland or 
‘… to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that 
Northern Ireland and there is no directly equivalent 
the use of any premises of the establishment is not 
provision. Scottish/Northern Irish universities, therefore, 
denied to any individual or body of persons on any ground  could not be the subject of a claim for breach of this 
connected with 
statutory duty. 
(a) the beliefs or views of that individual or of any member 
Nevertheless, freedom of speech is also protected 
of that body; or
through human rights law concepts such as freedom 
of expression and freedom of assembly, which apply 
(b) the policy or objectives of that body.’
throughout the UK. These are considered in more detail 
on the the next page. 

32  External speakers in higher education institutions
Academic freedom
(c) present controversial or unpopular points of view.’
Section 26 imposes duties on fundable bodies to (a) 
The legal basis for academic freedom focuses on 
have regard to the desirability of ensuring the academic 
the teaching activities of staff and the freedom of 
freedom of those engaged in teaching, the provision of 
institutions and their staff to determine admission 
learning and research and (b) ensure that appointments 
criteria and the content of courses. Beyond the  
and entitlements to privileges are not adversely affected 
freedom of speech provisions, the legal framework  
by the exercise of academic freedom by those persons.
does not extend academic freedom to the activities  
of visiting speakers.  
In Northern Ireland the Education (Academic Tenure) 
(Northern Ireland) Order 1988 provides in Article 3(2)
The concept of academic freedom underscores different  (a) that the University Commissioners for Northern 
pieces of legislation; for example in England and Wales,  Ireland shall in exercising their functions have regard to 
s.32(2) of the Higher Education Act 2004 puts a duty on 
the need ‘to ensure that academic staff have freedom 
the director of fair access to protect academic freedom 
within the law to question and test received wisdom, and 
when performing his statutory functions. The statute 
to put forward new ideas and controversial unpopular 
refers to: 
opinions, without placing themselves in jeopardy of 
‘in particular, the freedom of institutions
losing their jobs or privileges they may have at their 
institutions…’
(a) to determine the contents of particular courses and the 
manner in which they are taught, supervised or assessed, 
and
Equality law in Northern Ireland
(b) to determine the criteria for the admission of students 
At present, the Equality Act 2010 does not extend to 
and apply those criteria in particular cases.’32
Northern Ireland. There are various individual pieces of 
In terms of the freedom of individual academics, s.202(2)
anti-discrimination legislation which cover equality in 
(a) of the Education Reform Act 1988 acknowledges that in 
Northern Ireland: 
England and Wales: 
•  Sex Discrimination Act (Northern Ireland) 1970
‘academic staff have freedom within the law to question 
and test received wisdom, and to put forward new ideas 
•  Disability Discrimination Act 1995
and controversial or unpopular opinions, without placing  •  Race Relations (Northern Ireland) Order 1997
themselves in jeopardy of losing their jobs or privileges 
they may have at their institutions’. 
•  Fair Employment and Treatment 
Whilst this provision relates to duties on the former 
(Northern Ireland) Order 1998
University Commissioners in relation to pre-1992 
universities, the principle of academic freedom has 
•  Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) 
been incorporated into many universities’ governance 
Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2003
documents.  
•  Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 
In Scotland, similar reference is made to academic 
(Northern Ireland) 2006
freedom ‘within the law’ in s.26 of the Further and 
Higher Education (Scotland) Act 2005, concerning duties  •  Equal Pay Act (Northern Ireland) 1970
on further and higher education institutions (‘fundable 
bodies’) to protect academic freedom, which is defined 
The Fair Employment and Treatment (Northern Ireland) 
as including ‘… freedom (within the law) to:
Order 1998 specifically applies to discrimination on 
(a) hold and express opinion;
account of actual or perceived religious belief or political 
opinion.
(b) question and test established ideas and received 
wisdom; and
32 Higher Education Act 2004, s.32(2)

Annexe A: Legal considerations 
33
Criminal law, including  
•  endangering another’s life
anti-terrorism legislation
•  creating a serious risk to health and safety 
of the public, or a section of the public
A number of criminal law statutes create offences which 
are potentially relevant in the case of controversial 
•  actions designed to seriously interfere 
or extremist speakers. The principal legislation is 
with or disrupt an ‘electronic system’ 
considered below.
In addition to potential offences by an external speaker, 
The above actions would constitute criminal acts in their 
offences can also be committed by those responsible for  own right, but to constitute terrorism, the use or threat 
organising events, be they students or staff.  
of these actions must also be:
In outline, it consists of:
•  designed to influence the government or an 
international governmental organisation, or to 
•  The Public Order Act 198633
intimidate the public or a section of the public 
(although this element is unnecessary where the 
•  The Protection from Harassment Act 199734
use or threat of firearms or explosives is involved)
•  The Terrorism Acts 2000 and 200635
•  made for the purpose of advancing a political, 
•  The Breach of the Peace law
religious, racial or ideological cause  
36
•  The Public Meeting Act 190837
The definition is wide and could, for example, potentially 
include animal rights activism, nationalist groups, 
•  Other offences where verbal or written 
religious extremism, anti-abortion and pro-life 
threats are made or circulated
campaigners.
The TA 2000 further provides that actions taken ‘for the 
The position in Scotland is different: for example, not all  purposes of terrorism’ includes a reference to action 
of the provisions of the Public Order Act 1986 creating 
taken ‘for the benefit of a proscribed organisation’.
criminal offences apply in Scotland. Conduct which 
amounts to an offence under the Public Order Act 1986 
Further:
in England and Wales may be a criminal offence at 
•  the definition applies regardless of 
common law in Scotland.
whether the act or threat occurred inside 
or outside the UK (s.1(4)(a) TA 2000)
The statutory definition 
•  ‘public’ includes the public in other 
of terrorism
countries (s.1(4)(c) TA 2000)
Section 1 of the Terrorism Act 2000 (TA 2000) defines 
•  ‘government’ includes the UK government, 
‘terrorism’ as the use or threat of:
the government of any part of the UK, and the 
•  serious violence
government of any other country (s.1(4)(d) TA 2000)
•  serious damage to property
33 The equivalent legislation in Northern Ireland is the Public Order (Northern Ireland) Order 1987.
34 The equivalent legislation in Northern Ireland is the Protection from Harassment (Northern Ireland) Order 1997.
35 This legislation extends to Northern Ireland.
36 The position is the same in Northern Ireland.
37 In Northern Ireland, provisions relating to public meetings are under Article 7 of the Public Order (Northern Ireland Order) 1987.

34  External speakers in higher education institutions
Terrorism offences:  
S.20 TA 2000 allows a person to make disclosure to the 
police in respect of a suspicion or belief that money or 
the ‘duties to disclose’
other property is terrorist property. S.20(3) provides that 
this is ‘notwithstanding any restriction on the disclosure 
Whilst generally there is no legal obligation to prevent 
of information imposed by statute or otherwise’, 
or report criminal activity under UK law, ss.19 and 38B 
although there is scope for legal argument as to 
TA 2000 do impose express duties to disclose specified 
whether such a disclosure would comply with European 
information to the police in connection with terrorism 
data protection law, so institutions may consider it 
offences and suspected terrorism offences.
appropriate to ensure that any such disclosures are 
(s. 38B) It is an offence to fail, without ‘reasonable 
made in accordance with the provisions of the Data 
excuse’ to disclose to the police, as soon as is 
Protection Act. 
reasonably practicable information which he knows or 
believes might be of material assistance in:
Other offences where threats of 
‘preventing the commission by another person of an act 
violence are communicated38
of terrorism; or securing the apprehension, prosecution 
or conviction of another person, in the UK, for an offence 
It is possible that offences could be committed by 
involving the commission, preparation or instigation of an 
making threats, including in written material circulated 
act of terrorism’
on behalf of or relating to a controversial speaker. 
(s.19 TA 2000) It is an offence to fail, without ‘reasonable  Examples are:
excuse’ to disclose to the police, as soon as is 
S.16 Offences Against the Person Act 186139
reasonably practicable:
A person who without lawful excuse makes to another 
•  a belief or suspicion that another person has 
a threat, intending that that other would fear it would be 
committed a ‘terrorist property offence’ (ie one of 
carried out, to kill that other or a third person.
the offences under TA 2000 sections 15–18); and
Crime and Disorder Act 199840
•  the information underlying that belief or suspicion
This act imposes additional penalties for certain 
offences which are racially or religiously aggravated. 
The duty only applies where the information giving rise 
The offences affected include some of the offences 
to the belief or suspicion was obtained in the course of 
under the Public Order Act referred to above (s.4 fear 
a trade, profession, business or employment. The duty 
or provocation of violence, s.4A intentional harassment, 
to disclose also applies in relation to actions taken or 
alarm or distress, and s.5 harassment, alarm or 
items possessed outside the UK which would have been  distress), as well as the offences under the Protection 
a terrorist property offence (under TA 2000 s.15–18) in 
from Harassment Act 1997.
the UK.
S.127 Communications Act 200341
Where an employer has an established procedure for 
making disclosures (for example through a nominated 
Under s.127 it is an offence to send by means of a 
reporting officer), it is a defence for an employee to 
‘public electronic communications network a message 
prove that a disclosure was made in accordance with 
or other matter that is grossly offensive or of an 
that procedure.
indecent, obscene or menacing character, or to cause 
messages or matter to be so sent.’
38  In Northern Ireland under section 9(1) of the Northern Ireland Order 1987 a person who uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or 
behaviour or displays any written material which is threatening, abusive or insulting is guilty of an offence if (a) he intends to stir up hatred, 
arouse fear; or (b) having regard to all the circumstances hatred is likely to be stirred up or fear is likely to be aroused thereby.
39 This legislation extends to Northern Ireland, but does not apply in Scotland.
40 This legislation extends to Northern Ireland. These provisions of the 1998 Act do not apply in Scotland.
41 This legislation extends to Northern Ireland.

Annexe A: Legal considerations 
35
Malicious Communications Act 198842
(a) the material consists of, contains or implies a threat, 
The Act makes it an offence for any person to send to 
or an incitement, to carry out a seriously violent act 
another with the purpose of causing distress or anxiety 
against a person or against persons of a particular 
to the recipient:
description, the material or the communication of it 
would be likely to cause a reasonable person to suffer 
•  any letter, electronic communication or article 
fear or alarm, and the person communicating the 
of any description which conveys a message 
material intends by doing so to cause fear or alarm, 
which is indecent or grossly offensive, a threat, 
or is reckless as to whether the communication of the 
or information which is false and known 
material would cause fear or alarm; or 
or believed to be false by the sender
(b) the material is threatening, and  the person 
•  any article or electronic communication 
communicating it intends by doing so to stir up hatred 
which is, in whole or in part, of an 
on religious grounds
indecent or grossly offensive nature
Offences relating to public processions and 
assemblies and ‘trespassory assemblies’
There is a defence in relation to threats used to reinforce  Further offences are created by the Public Order Act 
demands made on reasonable grounds, with a belief 
198643 in relation to potentially disruptive processions 
(itself held on reasonable grounds) that the use of the 
and assemblies in certain circumstances. In outline:
threat was a proper means of reinforcing the demand.
•  In the case of processions on public highways 
Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening 
or in places where the public or part of the 
Communications (Scotland) Act 2012
public have ‘access as of right or by express or 
The 2012 Act creates specific offences in relation to 
implied permission’ it is an offence to fail to give 
regulated football matches and represented an attempt 
the police not less than six ‘clear’ days’ notice 
by the Scottish Parliament to respond to concerns about 
of the procession, unless this is not ‘reasonably 
sectarian behaviour at football matches in Scotland. 
practicable’. ‘Clear’ days means that the day on 
The offences relate to (a) expressing hatred or stirring 
which notice is given and the day of the procession 
up hatred against groups of persons based on their 
cannot be counted towards the notice period.
membership (or presumed membership) of religious 
groups or social or cultural groups with a perceived 
•  The police can have the power in certain 
religious affiliation or membership of groups defined 
circumstances (broadly speaking where they 
by reference to other characteristics such as race, 
believe that serious public order offences or 
disability or sexual orientation; (b) behaviour motivated 
disruption may occur) to impose conditions 
by such hatred; (c) behaviour that is threatening and (d) 
on such processions, and it is an offence 
behaviour that a reasonable person would be likely to 
to fail to comply with such conditions.  
consider offensive. The behaviour must be likely to incite 
public disorder.
•  If the police believe that the conditions will not be 
sufficient to prevent anticipated disruption, they can 
The offences can be committed in any place where a 
seek an order from a local authority prohibiting 
regulated football match is televised, which could of 
a procession. If such an order is made, it becomes 
course include students’ unions.
an offence to organise, take part in or incite 
The 2012 Act also creates offences in relation to 
another to take part in the specified procession.
threatening communications.  In terms of s.6 of the 
2012 Act a person commits an offence if he or she 
communicates material to another person, and either:
42 The equivalent in Northern Ireland is the Malicious Communications (Northern Ireland) Order 1988.  The Act does not apply in Scotland.
43  Most but not all parts of the Public Order Act 2006 apply in Scotland. The Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982 applies to public 
processions in Scotland. The equivalent legislation in Northern Ireland is the Public Order (Northern Ireland) Order 1987 which governs, 
inter alia, open-air public meetings. Note that the provisions are not identical to the Public Order Act 1986.

36  External speakers in higher education institutions
•  A senior police officer may also impose similar 
‘University’ is defined for the purposes of the 1986 
conditions on ‘public assemblies’ on the same 
Act to include a university college and any college, or 
grounds. A public assembly is an assembly of 
institution in the nature of a college, in a university45.
two or more persons in a public place which 
The Human Rights Act 1998 makes it unlawful 
is open to the air. ‘Public place’ is defined as 
for a public authority to act in a manner which is 
taking place on public highways and places in 
incompatible with the Convention Rights. ‘Public 
the same way as the ‘public procession’ offence 
authority’ is defined as:
above. It is an offence for the organisers and 
attendees to knowingly fail to comply with the 
•  a court or tribunal
conditions. It is also an offence to incite another 
to knowingly fail to comply with the conditions.
•  any person certain of whose functions 
are functions of a public nature46
•  The police can also seek a local authority order 
prohibiting a ‘trespassory assembly’, which in broad  Traditionally, state funding of institutions has been 
terms is an assembly of 20 persons or more on land 
viewed as a potential ground for establishing that such 
to which the public do not have access, which the 
institutions may exercise certain functions of a public 
landowner does not wish to permit and which it is 
nature. However, given changes to the funding regime 
anticipated will cause serious disruption or damage.
in recent years, it remains to be seen what approach a 
court will take to institutions in future, taking account  
Advice should be sought if it is considered likely that 
of their individual legal status, funding and functions.  
these provisions are going to be relevant to a particular 
Under the Equality Act 2010, the s.149 Public Sector 
event.
Equality Duty applies to ‘public authorities’ (s.149(1)). 
Schedule 19 of the Act defines ‘public authorities’ to 
Definition of universities
include ‘The governing body of an institution in England 
within the higher education sector (within the meaning  
The changing funding arrangements and legal 
of section 91(5) of [the Further and Higher Education 
structures of universities can have an impact on their 
Act 1992]’ .47
legal obligations. In terms of the matters considered in 
this guidance, the duties under the Education (No 2) Act 
1986 apply in England and Wales to every individual and 
body of persons concerned in the government of:
•  any university
•  any institution other than a university 
within the higher education sector
•  any establishment of higher or further education 
which is maintained by a local authority
•  any institution within the further education sector44
44 Education (No 2) Act 1986 s.43(5)
45 Education (No 2) Act 1986 s.43(6)
46 Human Rights Act 1998 s.6(3)
47  In Northern Ireland, the two universities are designated for the purposes of section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and are thus 
subject to the ‘Equality’ and ‘Good Relations’ duties. However, the Northern Irish students’ unions have not been designated.

Annexe B: Points to consider when reviewing your external speaker processes 
37
ANNEXE B: POINTS TO CONSIDER 
WHEN REVIEWING YOUR EXTERNAL 
SPEAKER PROCESSES
Institutions are free to devise their 
14.  What information is given on notifying the institution 
own policies and processes. These 
of material changes to an approved booking (such 
as a change in speaker)? 
questions may be helpful in reviewing  15.  Using the legal overview in Diagram 1 on page 4 as a 
existing processes.  
guide, are there any areas of the law that staff making 
external speaker decisions are unfamiliar with? 
1. Is the policy dated?
16.  Is there a well-communicated and structured 
2. When was the policy reviewed? 
process in place to escalate external speaker 
3.  What details are included relating to the individual 
requests that appear to be high risk or 
with ultimate oversight for the policy and decision-
controversial? 
making authority (name, contact details)? 
17.  Would creating a dedicated internal group assist 
4.  Does the policy state that individuals or organisations 
with making decisions on the most complicated 
that fail to adhere to it will face sanctions? 
external speaker requests? 
5. How accessible is the policy? 
18.  Using the list on page 21 as a guide, are there any 
individuals or organisations on it that your institution 
6.  Could the policy be made more widely available by 
might usefully involve in external speaker decisions 
utilising additional channels?
in particular circumstances? 
7.  What measures are in place to communicate the 
19.  What links currently exist with community groups, 
policy to student societies?
police and the local authority and are these links 
8.  Is the university event (conference) management 
used to assist with external speaker decisions where 
team aware of the policy? 
necessary? 
9.  Does the policy include any details of who it applies to  20.  What information is given on the timeframe for 
and which premises? 
communicating an external speaker decision and the 
mode of communication that will be used to do so? 
10.  Would examples of scenarios where requests may 
be refused provide additional clarity? 
21.  Is any information given on appealing an external 
speaker decision? 
11.  What information is given on the timeframe within 
which external speaker requests must be submitted  22.  Does the policy refer to the processes that student 
and responded to? 
societies must follow when making an external 
speaker booking request for an event on university 
12.  What information is given on how external speaker 
premises? 
requests must be made and where relevant forms 
can be accessed? 
23.  Does the policy include any involvement from a 
students’ union representative (eg the president) in 
13.  Are there any questions on the list on page 19 which 
relation to potentially controversial external speaker 
might be useful additions to your external speaker 
requests submitted to the institution by student 
booking form? 
societies?

38  External speakers in higher education institutions
ANNEXE C: OTHER RESOURCES
Association of Chief Police Officers (2012) Prevent, police  Equality and Human Rights Commission (2014) 
and universities
Gender Segregation at Events and Meetings. 
Guidance for Universities and Students’ Unions
Association of Chief Police Officers (2008) The application 
of neighbourhood policing to higher education institutions
National Union of Students (2011) Managing the risks 
associated with external speakers
Charity Commission (2013) Protecting charities from 
harm – compliance toolkit (Chapter 5 – ‘Protecting 
Safe Campus Communities website:  
Charities from abuse for extremist purposes and 
www.safecampuscommunities.ac.uk 
managing the risks at events and in activities’)
True Vision Stop Hate Crime website:  
Equality Challenge Unit (2013) Promoting good relations 
http://report-it.org.uk/report_a_hate_crime
on campus: a guide for higher and further education
Universities UK (2011) Freedom of speech on campus: 
rights and responsibilities in UK universities

Annexe C: Other resources 
39
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
This guidance has been drafted with 
This guidance has been drafted with 
input from a range of organisations 
input from a range of organisations 
and individuals. 
and individuals. 
Association of Chief Police Officers
Lokahi Foundation
Association of University Chief Security Officers 
National Union of Students
Charity Commission
The University of Nottingham
Church of England 
Union of Jewish Students 
Department for Business, Innovation and Skills
University College London
Equality Challenge Unit
University of Greenwich 
Federation of Student Islamic Societies
University of Westminster
GuildHE
Higher Education Funding Council for England
Legal input for the guidance was provided by Mills & 
Home Office
Reeve LLP with support from Brodies LLP (Scotland) 
and Arthur Cox (Northern Ireland).

40  External speakers in higher education institutions
BIBLIOGRAPHY
Aberystwyth University  
University of Bath  
Code of Practice on Freedom of Speech
Code of Practice – Freedom of Expression
Cardiff University  
University of Birmingham  
Code of Practice to ensure freedom of speech
Code of Practice on Freedom of Speech on Campus
Durham University  
University of Bolton  
Code of Practice on Freedom of Expression in Relation 
Code of Practice Relating to Freedom of Speech 
to Meetings or Other Activities on University Premises
and Meetings on University Premises (including the 
premises of the University of Bolton Students’ Union)
Leeds Metropolitan University  
Code of Practice on Freedom of Speech and Expression
University of Bradford  
Policy and Code of Practice on the Conduct of Events at 
Liverpool John Moores University  
the University
External Speakers Policy
University of Brighton  
London School of Economics  
Code of Practice on Freedom of Speech and Lawful 
Code of practice on free speech
Assembly in the University 
Loughborough University  
University of Essex  
Centre for Faith and Spirituality Handbook 2012-13
Policy on Tackling Violent Extremism in the name of 
ideology or belief and maintaining cohesive campus 
Oxford Brookes University  
relations
Code of Practice on Freehold of Speech and the Right of 
Lawful Assembly
University of Manchester  
Code of Practice on Freedom of Speech
Roehampton University and Roehampton University 
Students’ Union  
University of Oxford, Magdalen College  
Guidelines for engaging with sensitive issues
Code of Practice on Freedom of Speech
St George’s, University of London  
University of Surrey  
Guidance for all speakers at SGUL 
Code of Practice on Freedom of Speech
St George’s, University of London  
University of West London  
Promoting Good Campus Relations: Policy on Events 
Freedom of Speech – Code of Practice
and Meetings
University of Westminster  
University College London  
Code of Practice on Freedom of Speech within the 
Code of Practice on Freedom of Speech
University of Westminster

42  External speakers in higher education institutions
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leadership and support to its members to promote a 
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Revised edition March 2014; 
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