Dear Mike Buchanan,
Welcome to the FSU’s weekly newsletter, our round-up of the free speech news of the week. As with all our work, this newsletter depends on the support of our members and donors, so if you’re not already a paying member please sign up today or encourage a friend to join and help turn the tide against cancel culture. You can share our newsletters on social media with the buttons at the bottom of this email (although not if you’re reading this on a desktop). If someone has shared this newsletter with you and you’d like to join the FSU, you can find our website here.
Latest episode of the FSU’s weekly podcast out now
The latest episode of our weekly podcast is out now. Talking points include: Sunday’s march against antisemitism in London, and the rise of the ‘diversity statement’ as a pre-condition of promotion for academic staff at UK higher education institutions.
Hosts Tom and Ben also discuss the news that civil servants removed a ban on “political indoctrination” from the government’s model academy funding agreement back in 2020, creating a risk that academy schools may not know what their legal duties are when it comes to impartiality.
The link to download the episode in full is here.
KCL and the rise of the ‘diversity statement’ in UK academia – an update
We reported last week about King’s College London (KCL) requiring applicants for promotion to submit information about their activity to support the university’s “equality, diversity and inclusion ambitions” and, in a list of appropriate examples, mentioning participating in workshops and the like organised by Stonewall and other LGBTQ groups. Our friends at Alumni For Free Speech have now written to KCL claiming that this requirement is unlawful because it disadvantages applicants whose protected beliefs prevent them from expressing support for organisations whose views they don’t agree with and effectively warns members of the KCL’s academic staff that they may be penalised if they do not demonstrate adherence to beliefs they do not share.
The AFFS letter is illuminating and well worth a read – you can read it here.
FSU Member Almut Gadow – case update
It was good to see FSU member Almut Gadow’s solicitor, James Murray, citing her case in the Critic. The higher education and employment law specialist regards Almut’s case as one of several high-profile cases involving academic freedom that are currently working their way through the employment tribunal system that give “reason for great cheer”. (The others are Phoenix v Open University – of which more later – and Favaro v City University).
Former law-lecturer Dr Gadow was sacked by the Open University after questioning requirements to embed gender identity within the law curriculum that were handed down to academic staff by the university’s equality, diversity and inclusion (ED) team (Mail, Telegraph, Times Higher).
When Dr Gadow was told she needed to play her part in “liberating the curriculum” – by, for example, teaching students to use the preferred pronouns of fictional characters included in criminal law teaching materials – she raised some concerns. In a private OU staff forum, she pointed out that this might be unlawful.
These posts were deleted and managers later referred to the fact that she continued to post about her concerns as “serious insubordination” and accused her of creating an environment not “inclusive, trans-friendly or respectful”. Therefore, the posts were said to constitute “gross misconduct”.
With a legal team provided free of charge by the FSU, Almut is now bringing an employment tribunal case against the OU – a university, incidentally, that boasts on its website about being “passionately open” to ideas.
Her claim is that she was harassed, discriminated against and unfairly dismissed because she rejects gender identity ideology, and this breached human rights protections for academic freedom.
The OU has previously said it will “vigorously defend” itself against Dr Gadow’s charges, and with the final hearing at the Employment Tribunal now listed to begin on 24th February has intimated it will call up to 20 witnesses, potentially stretching the hearing out to an exorbitantly expensive four weeks.
As Dr Gadow notes in a case update posted to her CrowdJustice page, this isn’t the first time the institution has shown a fondness for ‘liberating’ as much of its money as possible while defending itself against former staff who say they’ve suffered belief discrimination.
The OU recently called a total of 18 witnesses during its legal battle with Dr Jo Phoenix, another former employee who claims she was bullied and harassed because of her gender critical views.
A similar procedural prolongation took place back in October, when Almut had a full-day preliminary hearing scheduled to consider a request from the OU’s legal team to strike out part of her claim. With much work and expense already having gone into preparing for that hearing, the institution suddenly accepted facts it could have accepted five months earlier and asked the Tribunal not to consider striking out any part of the claim.
It’s almost as if the legal strategy being pursued by the OU – operating surplus year ended 31st July 2022: £23 million – is to swerve any engagement with the complex points of human rights, academic freedom, free expression, and equality law raised by these cases, and instead simply rely on having deeper pockets than its former academic employees.
However, thanks entirely to the extraordinary generosity of FSU members and supporters earlier in the year, we have enough money to pay for all the ongoing legal work – although we will be launching a new fundraising campaign in the New Year.
Make no mistake, this is the FSU’s most ambitious crowdfunder yet, and with good reason. Not only does Almut deserve justice for the egregious way she’s been treated, but her case is also of great significance for all British academics and the young minds they teach in the future.
Although the question of how Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights protects academic freedom has been sketched out in a string of recent judgments by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), the UK courts have yet to properly consider ECtHR case law in this area. In seeking judicial guidance on this from an English employment tribunal, our hope is that Almut’s case will entrench these protections in domestic law and prohibit universities from penalising academics simply for questioning their institutions or curricula.
You can find out more about Almut’s case here.
New FSU events schedule for 2024
We will be kicking off the New Year with our first visit to Belfast, and for this inaugural event we have invited an incredible panel of speakers – Toby Young, Andrew Doyle, Stella O’Malley, David Quinn, Ella Whelan and Jeffrey Dudgeon – to discuss ‘The State of Free Speech in Northern Ireland’. Please mark the evening of Friday 26th January in your new diaries and calendars and start making plans to get to the beautiful Titanic Hotel in Belfast for an evening of debate and socialising. Tickets will go on sale next week.
From Belfast we’ll be hotfooting it to Manchester: on Saturday 3rd February, we’ll be at The Anthony Burgess Foundation for a night of discussion with a spot of live music thrown in too. Toby Young will be speaking to Sean Corby and Denise Fahmy, two courageous FSU members who we have helped through legal battles to defend the importance of viewpoint diversity in the workplace. Sean is a professional musician, and as well as explaining why it mattered so much to him to take a principled stand, he will be playing from his extensive jazz repertoire. Tickets on sale next week.
Policing, free speech and protecting communities – latest FSU event video now available
Last week the FSU hosted a panel of eminent legal experts to discuss the free speech challenges thrown up by the recent pro-Palestinian protests in London.
It was a fascinating event, and you can now watch the video in full on our YouTube channel here.
One of the questions our Chief Legal Counsel, Dr Bryn Harris, posed to the panel was whether the law needed to change, restricting some of the conduct that we’ve seen; and, in addition, whether a change in circumstances – e.g. an outbreak of war, or a particular atrocity on domestic soil – would alter that balance.
“We don’t need any more legislation,” former DPP Lord Ken Macdonald KC responded. “It would be a disaster if politicians started grubbing around trying to work out more ways in which to restrict people from expressing their views.” The police already have more than enough existing statutory and common law powers to deal with what he described as “those occasions where we had all seen what we believe ought to be criminal offences being committed”.
Part of the problem, according to the barrister George Thomas, is that at present the police do not have a particularly sophisticated understanding of the interaction between Article 9 and Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. “The rights of Jewish people on a Saturday afternoon to go to the Synagogue are as important as someone’s right to freedom of expression,” he said.
“You asked about whether my position would change if there were an atrocity,” Barrister and Legal Director for UK Lawyers for Israel Natasha Hausdorff said. “There was an atrocity. There were thousands of atrocities on 7th October.”
FSU Christmas Comedy Festival – get your tickets here
If you’ve never been to one of our comedy nights before, come along and find out just how good they are. Our spectacular, annual Comedy Benefit will take place just before Christmas, on Wednesday 20th December. Our MC for the evening is FSU favourite Dominic Frisby and he will be joined on stage by a fantastic line-up: Francis Foster, Daniel O’Reilly, Tania Edwards and Alistair Williams. Come and let your hair down with the FSU staff as we celebrate another successful year defending free speech. So, round up your friends and family and get your tickets here.
UK faces UN blacklist after lobbying by trans rights groups
Britain could be blacklisted at the UN’s Human Rights Council following repeated complaints from Stonewall and other trans rights lobby groups that the UK’s equalities watchdog has proposed protections for women’s sex-based rights that, in the words of Stone, “actively harm trans people” (Christian Institute, Scottish Legal News, Telegraph).
These complaints mean that the UN accreditation of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission is being reviewed by the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (Ganhri), an independent body. One possible outcome is that the EHRC will be stripped of its so-called ‘A status’, which means it would no longer have a place at the table of the UN Human Rights Council and other UN bodies.
Countries which have previously been stripped of their A status by Ganhri include Azerbaijan, Mauritania, Nicaragua, Paraguay and Afghanistan
Stonewall and others first lodged a complaint about the EHRC to Ganhri in February last year after Lady Falkner wrote to the governments in Holyrood and Westminster calling for them to pause before enacting laws governing legal gender recognition and conversion therapy.
At the time, the lobby groups’ request for a special review was rejected, but they were invited to contribute to a regular five-year review which took place later in the year. That review re-accredited the EHRC as an A status organisation.
However, in April of this year, the EHRC’s Chairwoman, Lady Falkner, provided advice to Kemi Badenoch, the Women and Equalities Minister, stating that changing the word “sex” to “biological sex” in the equalities law would help bring clarity on contentious issues such as the participation of biological men in women’s sport and the inclusion of biological men in ‘women-only’ shortlists drawn up by political parties.
Specifically, the EHRC Board’’s advice on this complex and divisive issue made clear that the Government should lean towards a biological definition of sex as the fairest way of protecting everyone’s rights, but that it should carefully identify and consider the potential implications of any such change for the rights of trans people.
That, however, wasn’t enough for Stonewall et al, who fired off another complaint to Ganhri. The ‘rationale’ behind the complaint was that the EHRC’s suggested protections for biological sex was “actively harming trans people”.
In a letter copied to UN human rights bosses, the organisations accused the EHRC of a lack of political independence and of issuing guidance on single-sex spaces which “sought to enable greater exclusion of trans women” from women-only spaces such as changing rooms and toilets. The suggestion that sex should be defined in law as biological was “unfair”, they added.
Ganhri has since informed the EHRC it will be subject to a special review.
A government spokesperson said: “This review is a matter for the EHRC. However, it is right that the Commission upholds its statutory and legal duty to independently advise the Government on the effectiveness of UK equality legislation without unnecessary intervention.”
FSU Member Vanessa Warwick – legal case update
FSU member Vanessa Warwick, who we believe is a victim of a SLAPP case by a property trainer, was invited by the Anti-SLAPPs coalition to present her case to them on their monthly zoom meeting. The FSU has provided Vanessa with legal support and is following her case with interest.
Vanessa spoke about how her case came about, the level of harassment and defamation she has suffered at the hands of the claimant, how pre-action protocols were not exhausted, and how facing the biggest defamation damages in the history of the UK courts (£5.4 million) had affected her finances and mental health. The call was organised by Nik Williams of Index on Censorship who has supported Vanessa in finding a barrister, and she is now represented by defamation specialist Jonathan Price of Doughty Chambers on a direct access basis. The coalition members were shocked at the level of on-line abuse Vanessa had suffered at the hands of the claimant over the past four years.
Vanessa is in receipt of just one letter from the claimant’s solicitors demanding blanket content deletion, a public apology, and significant alleged damages. She wrote back saying that the alleged defamation and harassment has not been properly or sufficiently particularised to enable her to understand what she’s accused of. She asked for clarification, but the next communication from the claimant was service of the claim against her in the High Court.
Neither has the claimant entered into mediation or shown any interest in settling the case, as dictated by court directions.
Vanessa spoke about how she hoped her case might be a platform for positive change, not only in regard to SLAPPs, but also in helping get the “wealth creation” industry regulated. The coalition members commended her for her strength and resilience in the face of this massive lawsuit.
You can find out more about Vanessa’s case and support her here.