Commissioning a QC to write a 37-page opinion regarding the legal status of the NUS’ no-platform policy must have been expensive. Expensive, and paid for with funds earmarked for the improvement of the lives of students. And yet, when Christopher McCall QC found that (except in the case of officially proscribed groups, such as terrorists) the no-platform policy is likely to be illegal, what did the NUS do? Nothing.
Nor can we read the legal opinion, as it has been kept ‘confidential’. Well done on transparency there, NUS.
McCall found that no-platforming groups or individuals not on official proscribed lists may fall foul of section 43 of the Education Act 1986, which contains the following:
‘Every individual and body of persons concerned in the government of any establishment to which this section applies shall take such steps as are reasonably practicable to ensure that freedom of speech within the law is secured for members, students and employees of the establishment and for visiting speakers.’
One would like to think that a student union would be pretty excited about securing every freedom possible for its members – especially those protected by law.
But sadly this does not seem to be the case. Instead of addressing McCall’s concerns, they issued a statement claiming that there was ‘no reason’ for them to change their policy. Like the friend who asks for advice and then gets annoyed when you tell them something they don’t want to hear, the NUS are demonstrating – yet again – breathtaking immaturity and arrogance.
Whether they are deciding that ‘cisgendered’ gay men just don’t deserve representation on LGBT committees, or proclaiming that some people have more equality than others these individuals are a law unto themselves. But Google Christopher McCall’s judgement and it seems that not many people are talking about this. They should be. As Sam Leith points out writing in the Evening Standard, this raises important issues; for example, will the NUS or individual SUs be held responsible if a legal challenge to a no-platform decision were to be brought successfully?
Since the opinion itself has not been published we also don’t know whether it contained any pearls of advice regarding safe-space policies either. Could it be that SUs may simply have no right to prohibit music and publications as they see fit? I would certainly like to know what a legal expert has to say about that.
The NUS spends a lot of time and energy fighting individuals and groups they consider to be fascist. There is perhaps a deep irony, then, when a group that is supposed to oppose despotism is arrogant enough to decide that the laws of the land simply don’t apply to them.