A new legal duty to prevent radicalisation on campus

The Counter-Terrorism & Security Bill is currently making swift progress through Parliament.

The main provision of interest to universities and colleges is the proposed duty to have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism.  The Home Secretary will have the power to issue guidance on the exercise of this duty to all universities and colleges, to specific named institutions, or to all institutions of a particular type. This guidance will be published.

If the Home Secretary considers that an institution has failed to discharge the duty imposed on it then she may issue specific directions, enforceable if necessary by a court order. A failure to comply with a court order will amount to a contempt of court, which could lead to sanctions, including imprisonment, of a named individual, most likely the Vice-Chancellor or Principal, but possibly another relevant senior officer. A failure to discharge the duty will not however confer any right to bring a private, civil action.

“Terrorism” in this context has the same meaning given under the Terrorism Act 2000. It is, broadly, the use or threat of action that involves harm or likelihood of harm to people, damage to property or serious disruption of electronic systems, which is designed to influence governments or intimidate the public or sections of the public here or abroad and is designed to advance a particular political, religious, racial or ideological cause.  

So, once in force, institutions will have to consider what policies, procedures and systems they can implement which will prevent people from being drawn into using or threatening action that satisfies these criteria. Although much of the media attention has focused on the need to exclude extremist speakers from campus, the act as drafted goes much further than that. James Brokenshire, the Security Minister, has already opined (http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/dec/03/university-vice-chancellors-contempt-charges-extremism?CMP=share_btn_tw) that lecturers should be expected to monitor and report students whose behaviour or “personality traits” suggested a risk of being drawn into extremism. There may also be research projects and/or course modules that explore issues which could be argued to encourage people towards terrorism. The potential for interference with academic freedom and institutional autonomy is self –evident.

The proposed legislation continues the increasingly interventionist and seemingly unstoppable role played by the Home Office into activities on campus through, for example, the ever-more prescriptive conditions of Tier 4 sponsorship. 

We will report further as the Bill continues its way towards legislative force.

Smita Jamdar
Partner and Head of Education
For and on behalf of SGH Martineau LLP
DD: 0800 763 1332
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E: smita.jamdar@sghmartineau.com
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