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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 below.

Dear Sir,


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.

Yours sincerely,

Scottish Secretary

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)