Regulation 10: Freedom of speech within the University


The University is required by Section 43 of the Education (No. 2) Act 1986 to take 'such steps as are reasonably practicable to ensure that freedom of speech within the law is secured on University premises for members, students and employees of the University and for visiting speakers'.

Furthermore, the use of University premises, so far as is reasonably practicable, is not to be denied 'to any individual or body of persons on any ground connected with: (a) the beliefs or views of that individual or of any member of that body; or (b) the policy or objectives of that body'.

The University, on the other hand, is under no legal obligation to allow meetings to be held on University premises which are open to members of the public.

These legal requirements are consistent with the University's long-established policy on freedom of speech and, in particular, with its public declaration that members of a University have a particular obligation not to seek to prevent the expression of opinion but to counter argument with argument and thought with thought. They are also in keeping with the policy of the Students' Union as set out in its Constitution in accordance with University Ordinance 4.4

For the purpose of these Regulations 'members' of the University are as laid down in University Statute 2.

Our duty to uphold lawful free speech (detailed in this regulation) can sometimes create tensions with our ethos of being an inclusive and welcoming community. We have to balance these concerns against the need to promote free speech on campus.

To find out more about how we handle these kinds of situations, please read our Notes on Regulation 10: Freedom of speech within the University.

10.1 Members and employees of the University are required to observe the principle of freedom of speech within the law at all times while on University premises.

10.2 Any action by a member of the University or by an employee of the University which is found by the University to be in deliberate or reckless contravention of the requirement set out in 10.1 above or of the particular provisions of the remainder of these Regulations shall be a breach of University discipline and as such will be liable to lead to disciplinary action against those concerned, irrespective of any action which may be taken in law.

10.3 The meetings and activities to which these Regulations apply are referred to throughout as 'meetings' and comprise all formal gatherings on University premises which ten or more people will have the right to attend. Except by the written consent of the Registrar and Secretary, the right to convene meetings on University premises is restricted to groups whose constitutional existence within the University is recognised by the University Council. These shall include Departments, Boards of Studies, Colleges, Senior, Graduate and Junior Common Rooms, the Students' Union and its constituent societies, the Graduate Students' Association and its constituent societies, the York Society, trade unions and such other societies or groups as may be approved by the University Council for the purpose.

Subject to 10.4(a) below, a meeting shall be held only in a place which has been booked for the relevant time through the Room Bookings Office, or through the appropriate College, or has been allocated for the relevant time to a group on whose behalf the meeting is called. Reference in these Regulations to the Registrar and Secretary shall be interpreted as meaning also any employee of the University to whom authority has been delegated to act for the Registrar and Secretary for the purposes of these Regulations.

10.4 Code of Conduct for Special Meetings

(a) A 'Special Meeting' is any meeting as defined for the purposes of 10.3 above which the organising group believes may prove problematical, or which the Registrar and Secretary designates as a Special Meeting on the grounds that it may prove problematical. 'Problematical' in this context means that, because of the subject matter and/or speaker, difficulty may be anticipated for the speaker in entering or leaving the building where the meeting is to take place, or in speaking without unreasonable interruption.

(b) Any group convening the meeting must appoint a named organiser with full authority to act on behalf of the group in all matters concerning the meeting. The organiser must obtain the Registrar and Secretary's written consent before issuing a firm invitation to any speaker and before publication of any material advertising the meeting.

(c) Before giving written approval for a Special Meeting, the Registrar and Secretary must be satisfied that all reasonably practicable steps will be taken to protect the speaker and the rights of those who wish to hear what he/she has to say. To that end, the Registrar and Secretary will have discretion to determine the time and place for the meeting and to impose such conditions as in his/her opinion may be necessary to enable the meeting to proceed in accordance with the principles of freedom of speech within the law and in a way consistent with the need to maintain good order. If not satisfied that adequate arrangements can be made to maintain good order, the Registrar and Secretary may refuse permission for the meeting. The Registrar and Secretary may also withdraw permission for a Special Meeting at any time after issuing written permission for the meeting if, due to changed circumstances, he/she is no longer satisfied that adequate arrangements can be made to maintain good order. A decision to refuse or withdraw permission for a Special Meeting will normally be taken only after close consultation with the police.

(d) Special Meetings held on University premises shall not be open to those who are not members or employees of the University except by named invitations proposed by the organiser and approved in writing by the Registrar and Secretary before such invitations are sent out. The group convening the meeting will be held responsible for the conduct of such invited guests while on University premises.

(e) The organiser of a Special Meeting may be required by the Registrar and Secretary to regulate access to the meeting by the issue of tickets or by a stipulation that those wishing to attend must produce evidence of identity and/or membership of the University as a condition of admission. Any such requirements must be stated clearly in any advertising material.

(f) The organiser of a Special Meeting must provide the number of stewards determined by the Registrar and Secretary as necessary to maintain good order during the meeting. All stewards must be members or employees of the University, and the Registrar and Secretary must be satisfied as to their suitability.

(g) Any group convening a Special Meeting will be required to meet the full cost of providing the services of as many porters as the Registrar and Secretary may reasonably judge to be necessary within the meeting and for control of access to it. Payment in advance or evidence of ability to pay will be required.

(h) For the first Special Meeting convened by any group in a particular term the University will meet the cost of such other security arrangements as the Registrar and Secretary may reasonably judge to be necessary and will normally supply free of charge a public address system. But the Registrar and Secretary may make it a condition of allowing any other Special Meeting convened by that group for the same term that the group agrees to indemnify the University against any costs or damages arising from that meeting and to meet such further conditions as the Registrar and Secretary may reasonably impose.

(i) Any group convening a Special Meeting must appoint an individual to chair the meeting and to be responsible for its conduct. He/she will be expected, in particular, to take all reasonable steps to ensure that speakers comply with the law and that the principles of freedom of speech are upheld. He/she will also be expected to use his or her best endeavours to provide that any questions to a speaker, or any contributions to a debate, are taken from a broad cross-section of those attending the meeting and are not confined to those of one particular view.

(j) Facilities shall not be provided for the press and broadcasting media at any Special Meeting except in terms agreed by the Registrar and Secretary and the organiser of the meeting, and will normally be provided only for those whose audience or readership is mainly within the University.

(k) The Registrar and Secretary will normally nominate a senior member of the University to attend the Special Meeting. If in the opinion of any senior member nominated by the Registrar and Secretary to attend the meeting the conditions within the meeting are such that it cannot properly continue, he/she may require the person in the Chair to close the meeting forthwith. He/she will also be authorised to decide whether assistance from the police should be summoned.

(l) Where the use of the University's premises for a meeting is the object of a commercial contract with the organiser or organising group, the Registrar and Secretary must be satisfied that the University and those concerned in its government will be indemnified against any loss, damage or expense arising from denial (or alleged denial) of free speech at that meeting and, if he or she is satisfied of that, the other requirements of section 10.4 shall not apply to that meeting.

10.5 Appeals against decisions taken by the Registrar and Secretary in respect of Special Meetings may be made to the Vice-Chancellor, whose decision will be final. However, the Vice-Chancellor's decision must be notified with a statement of the circumstances to the next meeting of the University Council.

10.6 An advisory committee shall be established by the University Council to monitor and report to the Council at the end of each academic year on the implementation and efficacy of these Regulations and to advise the Registrar and Secretary and the Vice-Chancellor on matters arising from them. Membership of the Committee shall be: the Deputy or Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Chair); one lay member of the University Council; two members of the University Committee, one of them a student and the other a representative of one of the Senate; and one member of the non-academic staff to be drawn from the non-academic membership of the University Council.