Date: 4 February 2005
St Andrew's must stop racist speech - UNISON
UNISONScotland, the public service union, today wrote to the Principal
of St Andrew's University pointing out the university's legal obligations
to promote race relations mean they must take action to deal with
the invitation of the University Debating Society to BNP leader
Nick Griffin to speak in debate on the 9 February.
The union also points out that the university has duties of care
to its members working there and that it will not tolerate members
being placed in a situation where there is a risk of racial harassment
or other forms of discriminatory behaviour or faced by health and
safety risks caused by demonstrations and counter demonstrations.
The text of the letter from Matt Smith to the Principal is attached
ST ANDREWS UNIVERSITY DEBATING SOCIETY MEETING 9TH FEBRUARY 2005
I am writing to draw your attention to the proposal that Mr Nick
Griffin of the British National Party should address a meeting of
the University Debating Society on the 9th of February 2005.
I anticipate that this may be an event of which you are unaware
and I am keen to draw your attention to the following concerns.
Our legal advice indicates that the University is a public authority
under Schedule 1A to the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000.
Consequently the University has, as you are aware, a duty to have
due regard to eliminate unlawful discrimination, to promote equality
of opportunity and to promote good relations between persons of
different racial groups. It is also unlawful for the University
to do any act which constitutes discrimination.
You may not be aware that Mr Griffin was found guilty of distributing
material likely to incite racial hatred, for which he received a
two-year suspended sentence in 1998. The political party of which
he is leader is currently the subject of police investigations into
alleged incitement to commit racial hatred.
Although Mr Griffin is not one of the three people charged under
that investigation, he was arrested and then released on police
bail. The obvious fear is that the University will be the location
for an event at which there is incitement to commit racial hatred
or other unlawful discriminatory acts. If this were to occur it
is likely that this would constitute a breach of the discrimination
laws which regulate bodies such as the University.
Even if the event were to pass without incident, the University
would probably fail to show that it had due regard for its race
equality duties in allowing the meeting to take place. I am asking
that you take the necessary steps to ensure that the University
is complying with its legal obligations in relation to race equality.
For our part, we are obliged to look after our members employed
at the University. We cannot tolerate our members being placed in
a situation where there is a risk of racial harassment or other
forms of discriminatory behaviour. In addition to the risk of harassment,
there is an obvious danger that the staging of this event may become
the focus of demonstrations and counter demonstrations. As you can
imagine this gives us some concern for the health and safety of
members working in the vicinity of this event.
Finally, our legal advice also identifies that it would be a breach
of the 1976 Act for a person to aid the commission of an unlawful
act. We believe it would be unlawful for the University to host
an event at which Mr Griffin is a speaker. I anticipate that, as
the leader of a prestigious academic institution you may fear criticism
that you are being asked to stifle freedom of speech. In that regard
I would refer you to the decisions of the European Court of Human
Rights on the law of free speech as it applies to racism and fascism.
Human rights law places the rights of personal safety, liberty
and security ahead of the right of free speech or free expression
when free speech is used to incite racial hatred. This is reflected
in the recent decision of Aberdeen City Council to ban a proposed
demonstration by the National Front. I would be grateful therefore
if you could make enquiries into the detailed arrangements for this
event and take every appropriate step to ensure that the University
is adhering to its legal duties.
For Further Information Please Contact: Matt Smith (Scottish
Secretary) 0845 355 0845(o) 07771 548 997(m) Dave Watson (Scottish
Org - Policy & Info): 0845 355 0845(o) 07787 558 410(m) Chris Bartter
(Communications Officer): 0870 7777006(o) 07715 583 729(m)