Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Countering terrorism in universities

The Government has now published the Counter Terrorism and Security Bill which includes provisions that enable the Home Secretary to require universities to take steps to counter radicalism.  I'm just commenting here on what the Bill seems to mean for universities - there's lots more in it than this!

Three relevant powers are in the Bill.

Firstly, the bill places a general duty on "specified authorit[ies]" (which includes universities) in the exercise of their functions, to "have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism."

Secondly, the Bill gives the Secretary of State the power to "issue guidance to specified authorities about the exercise of [this] duty"

Thirdly, the Bill gives the Secretary of state the power to "give directions to the authority for the purpose of enforcing the performance of that duty" which "may be enforced, on an application made on behalf of the Secretary of State, by a mandatory order."

So, the Home Secretary gets to tell universities what to do.  With a power to seek a court order to do so.

There's two angles to this.

In practice, it means that the Home Secretary is likely to instruct universities to ban certain speakers from campus; and instruct them to report students about whom they have concerns.  Neither of these is uncontroversial.

It is also, of course, an encroachment on universities' autonomy. I couldn't fined a clause that limited the range of matters on which the Home Secretary could give guidance. Is the curriculum out of bounds?

The relevant clauses, by the way, are in Part 5, Chapter 1, sections 21, 24 and 25,. And the usual disclaimer: I'm not a lawyer: this is offered as commentary.

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