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Freedom of speech protected after legal intervention at Nottingham University

  • Pro-life group “Nottingham Students for Life” granted affiliation with student representative body
  • Another victory for freedom of expression and association on UK campuses

NOTTINGHAM (22 July 2019) – A pro-life student society – “Nottingham Students for Life” – has been granted affiliation by the University of Nottingham Students’ Union after the initial decision to deny the group affiliation was challenged. The Nottingham Students’ Union had sought to argue that the values of the pro-life group “did not align” with their own and rejected the group’s application for affiliation on that basis. However, with the help of ADF International, “Nottingham Students for Life” was able to challenge the decision, arguing that the Union had a legal commitment to represent all students whether or not they agreed with their beliefs. Consequently, the Students’ Union has now reversed its original decision and granted the pro-life group affiliation.

“Freedom of speech is the foundation of every free and democratic society. Of all places, university is where students should be free to debate and explore ideas, even those with which they might disagree. This simply does not work when a students’ representative body ‘picks sides’ and censors students that it disagrees with. Students’ Unions have a legal obligation to treat all groups fairly, and should focus on cultivating an environment where students are able to have difficult conversations without fear of censorship. We congratulate the ‘Nottingham Students for Life’ on their new affiliation and hope that other student representative bodies pay very careful attention to this outcome,” said Laurence Wilkinson, Legal Counsel for ADF International in London.

“Freedom of speech is the foundation of every free and democratic society. Of all places, university is where students should be free to debate and explore ideas, even those with which they might disagree.”

Protecting free speech on UK campuses

In 2018, the Joint Committee on Human Rights in Parliament released a report on Freedom of Speech in Universities which criticised the “no-platforming” policies on UK campuses stifling debate around “unpopular” opinions. David Issacs, the Equality and Human Rights Commission Chair, recently re-emphasised that universities should act as “bastions of debate and defenders of expression” and should not be hindering pro-life societies from affiliation simply because students disagreed with their views.

Across the UK, many pro-life groups have been hampered in their ability to speak freely on campus and enjoy the same benefits as other student societies. However in the last 10 months, student representative bodies at Glasgow University, Strathclyde University, and Aberdeen University have all had to reverse their decisions to refuse affiliation to pro-life groups after the groups raised the prospect of legal proceedings.

Julia Rynkiewicz, President of Nottingham Students for Life, said, “I am grateful that our rights to freely speak and assemble at the University of Nottingham were upheld. We know that we are not the first society to face this kind of open hostility because of our views on when life begins, and we certainly won’t be the last. Our pleas to the Students’ Union to ensure a respectful and tolerant environment for all students had fallen on deaf ears, and it is regrettable that it took the threat of legal action in order for the Union to take its legal obligations seriously. We are delighted to have now received affiliation, and we look forward to engaging the student body on this important issue in a respectful and positive manner.”

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