How extreme is extreme? Charity Commission’s workshop guidance

A little over a week ago I attended a Charity Commission workshop on how trustees should deal with extremism on campus. The aptly named ‘Higher Education Institutions and Students’ Unions: Managing risks associated with events, speakers and publications as charities’ was designed to make trustees aware of the potential problem of extremism and the legal framework behind it, whilst providing brief guidance on the steps they should be take to address such a problem.
Interestingly, the Commission used a definition of extremism seemingly used in the government’s PREVENT strategy: “Vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs. Also calls for the death of members of our armed forces, whether in this country or overseas.” This is presumably the definition it will use for all extremism issues.
The guidance covered a range of issues:
  • When considering whether to allow a potentially extremist speaker onto campus, trustees are expected to take certain steps including: making an assessment of the risk, completing the necessary due diligence, being clear about selection and approval, providing clear guidelines, checking that proposed speakers are suitable, properly managing charity events, complying with the law, preventing the charity’s activities and views from being misinterpreted and setting procedures. The Charity Commission expect trustees to be seen to be mitigating risk and promoting the public benefit.
  • There needs to be the right balance between the trustees taking on responsibility for assessment on the one hand and delegation on the other. This needs to be kept flexible. The extent of the trustee’s involvement will depend on the situation.
  • There may be a range of views that are not consistent with a charity’s purposes that should not be permitted, even if this falls below the criminal threshold.
  • Controversial speakers can be used as long as the trustees are clear about how this will further the charity’s objects, take active steps to manage the risks and do not allow the charity to be used as a vehicle for the expression of personal political views or of extremist, radicalising or other views which promote or support terrorism.
  • Trustees can check the HM Treasury List of individuals and entities that have been identified as extreme.  The Home Office also have a similar list.
  • Trustees should be aware of the reputational risk of misuse of the institution’s own website. There should a clear declaration of disassociation between the institution and extreme activities
  • Trustees can make referrals through Directgov to the Counter Terrorism Internet Referral Unit (CITRU) if they find extreme publications on the internet (for example videos or chat forums).
The event, whilst providing some useful guidance, also provided a valuable insight into the issues that many institutions have found give rise to such ‘extremism’, including:
  • Foreign policy
  • Increase in tuition fees
  • Promotion of the extreme right
  •  Religion
  •  Anti-abortion vs pro-abortion views
  •  Disability
There was also an indication that issues such as the government’s austerity and immigration policies may spark extremism in the future.

The guidance can be found here.

Eloise Di Pasqua
Education Team
For and on behalf of SGH Martineau LLP
DD: 0800 763 1377
F: 0800 763 1001
International DD: +44 870 763 1377

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