Freedom of Speech
Code of Practice
1. In pursuance of its duties as laid down in Section 43 of the Education (No 2) Act 1986 (see Annex A above) Imperial College issues the following Code in order to take the steps which are reasonably practicable to ensure that freedom of speech within the law is secured for students and staff of the College and for visiting speakers and members of the public. This code applies equally to meetings, debates, speeches, talks, presentations or other activities organised by students or staff of the College (“Events”), whether they are held on College premises, external premises, or virtual spaces on online platforms. Organisers of conferences should refer to this policy in conjunction with the College’s Conferences Policy. Personal data processed under the procedures of this Code will be processed in accordance with the College's Privacy Notice.
Events to which this code applies
2. Any event where there is a real likelihood that speakers and other participants may:
2.1 not be able to enter or leave the premises safely, and/or
2.2 not comply with the legal obligations described in section 4, and/or
2.2 not be able to deliver speeches and participate in debate or discussion in good order, and/or
2.3 that a breach of the peace may occur
will be deemed to fall within the requirements of this code.
3. So far as is reasonably practicable freedom of speech within the law will be secured for students and staff of the College and for visiting speakers, and as far as those groups are concerned, approval for events will not be denied to any individual or body of persons proposing to hold a lawful meeting on any ground connected with:
a. The beliefs or views of that individual or that body; or
b. The policy or objectives of that body.
4. The College is under no legal obligation to approve events which are open to the outside public. It must take account of its other legal obligations with regard to what is said at Events which might lead to incitement to violence or breach of the peace or incitement of racial or religious hatred or which might otherwise transgress the bounds of lawful speech. (The Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006 makes it a criminal offence to use threatening words or behaviour with the intention of stirring up hatred against any group of people because of their religious beliefs or their lack of religious beliefs. To be caught under the Act, words, behaviour, written material, recordings or programmes must be threatening and intended to stir up religious hatred).
5. It is essential to the purpose of the College that opportunities for free and open discussion shall be safeguarded. Students and staff of the College, as well as all other persons attending approved events must refrain from acting in a manner likely to prevent or disrupt the purpose for which the event is held. This includes the use of threatening or offensive language in needlessly provocative statements.
6. A booking for an event requested by staff or students of the College and involving a visiting speaker, i.e. a person coming from outside the College, will be accepted if the invitation is made by:
a. A College-based club, society or project recognised by Imperial College Union; or
b. A body otherwise recognised by the College or approved by a Head of Department or College Secretary.
7. The College has discretion about the acceptance of any booking requested by an outside organisation. Where there is the possibility of an occurrence arising from such a booking which falls within the terms of paragraph 2 above, the College must be alerted, and the relevant terms of the Code of Practice applied. The contract between the College and the organisation concerned will include reference to this requirement.
Application of the Code
8. By the authority of the Council of the College the following procedures must be followed by students and staff of the College in respect of:
a. Events falling within the class of events specified in paragraph 2 above, whether taking place on College premises, at an external venue, or on an online platform;
b. The conduct required of all persons in connection with any such defined events; and
c. Any other related or ancillary matters which the College from time to time declares to fall within this Code.
9. Infringements of or departures from these procedures in whatever respect will render those responsible subject to disciplinary proceedings.
10. Additionally, if any such actions involve breaches of the law the College authorities will be ready to assist the prosecuting authorities to implement the process of law.
11. The College in laying down the following Procedures appoints the College Secretary on its behalf to seek that, as far as is reasonably practicable, all students and staff of the College, visiting speakers and members of the public comply with the provisions of this code.
12. Rooms and lecture theatres in College buildings may be booked for events through the Conference & Events Office, subject to availability of suitable accommodation. In the case of rooms in the Union Building, bookings are made via the Union’s E-Activities System. If the Conference & Events Officer or Union Officer or employee considers that a booking might fall within the definition of paragraph 2 above, then the request shall be referred to the College Secretary.
13. Organisers of an event which falls within the meaning of paragraph 2 above shall ensure that a single person is appointed as principal organiser of the event.
14. The principal organiser of such an event shall ensure that at least two weeks before the date proposed for the event notice of the proposal is given to the College Secretary as the Council's appointed officer. Such notice shall contain a written statement of:
a. The names of the speaker(s) and/or any high profile invited participant(s), and the details of the organisation(s) which each represents;
b. if the persons listed under (a) have attended an event at Imperial College before, when;
c. other establishments the persons listed under (a) have spoken at, attended before, and whether there have been incidents of protest, public order, illegal activities, significant publicity or where permission to speak has been refused;
d. The subject of the address and title of the event;
e. The date, time and proposed venue for the event;
f. The precise timing of arrival and departure of the speaker;
g. details of any known security threats;
h. details of any personal security arrangements;
i. potential for controversial or illegal aspects of the talk or for the incitement of controversial or illegal actions by the speaker;
j. potential for public order difficulties (whether on premises or online);
k. details of any media interest in the proposed event;
l. Draft copy of the proposed notice, leaflet, social media or other material announcing or advertising the event and details of any proposed advertising campaign;
m. Details of any members of the public who have either been invited to attend, or are expected to attend, the event;
n. The anticipated number of attendees;
o. Details of any requested seating arrangements;
p. Whether the event will be filmed or recorded, and how such recording may be distributed;
q. Name, email address and telephone number of the member of the College organising the event and the name of the chairperson; and
r. Details of the circumstances which give rise to the possible concern about potential disturbance or otherwise preventing the event taking place peaceably, or that it is likely that the event will attract unauthorised attendance by the public or any section thereof, or that it may be picketed.
15. Within five days of receiving such notice the College Secretary shall issue a statement which shall either grant or withhold approval for the event, or may agree that the event shall take place in premises other than those proposed by the principal organiser. Events which fall within the scope of paragraph 2 above and are escalated shall be the subject of application to the College Secretary for decision and not for decision by another College officer or employee or an officer or employee of the Imperial College Union. In the event the College Secretary is unavailable, the application shall be made to the Head of Central Secretariat.
16. Permission to hold an event may be granted subject to such conditions as the College Secretary considers reasonably necessary to secure the fulfilment of the College’s statutory responsibilities concerning the protection of freedom of speech within the law (see paragraph 24 below).
17. The principal organiser and every other person concerned with the organisation of any event for which permission has been granted shall be required to comply with any and every condition laid down by the College Secretary under the provisions of this Code. Such conditions may include a requirement that:
a. The public may not be invited or admitted (whether in person or virtually);
b. The audience may not include persons other than students and staff of the College;
c. Admission be restricted and controlled by tickets, identity cards or both, or password protected for virtual events;
d. If guests of attendees are allowed to attend only those whose identity is known to the organisers may be admitted;
e. All advertising will be in the English language;
f. Speakers shall enter and leave premises by specified routes and be escorted under specified arrangements to be made by the organisers;
g. An adequate number of stewards shall be available before, during and after the event as to whose suitability the College Secretary must be satisfied; and/ or
h. Additional security staff will be deployed to maintain good order at a cost which may be borne by the organisers.
18. Organisers have a duty to see that nothing in the preparations for or conduct of an event infringes the law, e.g. by conduct likely to cause a breach of the peace or incitement to illegal acts.
19. The chairperson of the event has a personal duty to secure as far as possible that both the audience and the speaker act in accordance with the law during the event. In cases of unlawful conduct the chairperson is required to give appropriate warning and in cases of continuing unlawfulness to require the withdrawal or removal of the person(s) concerned by the stewards or security staff, or to close the event and to call the police as necessary; or, in the case of a virtual event held on an online platform, to remove the person(s) concerned from the Chat and/or the Call.
20. No articles such as banners or objects which might be used as missiles may be taken inside the building where an event is taking place or taken or used elsewhere on the premises in circumstances likely to lead to injury or damage.
21. No alcoholic drinks may be consumed in the area where the event takes place.
22. Premises used for events must be left in a clean and tidy condition in default of which the organisers may be charged for such additional cleaning and/ or repairs that are subsequently required. An advance deposit or evidence of ability to pay towards the costs may be required.
23. The conditions prescribed by the College Secretary under paragraph 17 above and paragraph 24 below may include conditions concerning admission or exclusion of press, television or broadcasting personnel.
24. In addition to the conditions set out in paragraph 17 above the College Secretary has discretion to lay down further conditions, if appropriate, after consultation with the police. For example, the event may be designated public because of attendant circumstances (which would permit a police presence); arrangements may be made for College staff to be responsible for all security arrangements connected with the event and to appoint a member of staff as “controlling officer” for the occasion. If not satisfied that adequate arrangements can be made to maintain good order the College Secretary may refuse or withdraw permission for the event. Such a step would normally only be taken on the advice of the police. The College Secretary will report the circumstances of such incident to the next meeting of the Council.
25. For the purposes of reconciling the Code of Student Discipline with this Code of Practice any offence arising in connection with an event described in paragraph 2 above wherever it occurs, shall be deemed to fall within the purview of the College Discipline Committee.
26. Appeals against the ruling of the College Secretary may be made to the President whose decision shall be final but must be reported to the next meeting of the Council.
27. This code of practice will be subject to annual review and in the light of circumstances will be subject to amendment by the Council.
The Education (No. 2) Act 1986, Section 43
(1) Every individual and body of persons concerned in the government of any establishment to which this section applies shall take such steps as are reasonably practicable to ensure that freedom of speech within the law is secured for members, students and employees of the establishment and for visiting speakers.
(2) The duty imposed by subsection (1) above includes (in particular) the duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that the use of any premises of the establishment is not denied to any individual or body of persons on any ground connected with:
(a) the beliefs or views of that individual or of any member of that body; or
(b) the policy or objectives of that body.
(3) The governing body of every such establishment shall, with a view to facilitating the discharge of the duty imposed by subsection (1) above in relation to that establishment, issue and keep up to date a code of practice setting out:
(a) the procedures to be followed by members, students and employees of the establishment in connection with the organization
(i) of meetings which are to be held on premises of the establishment and which fall within any class of meeting specified in the code; and
(ii) of other activities which are to take place on those premises and which fall within any class of activity so specified; and
(b) the conduct required of such persons in connection with any such meeting or activity;
and dealing with such other matters as the governing body consider appropriate.
(4) Every individual and body of persons concerned in the government of any such establishment shall take such steps as are reasonably practicable (including where appropriate the initiation of disciplinary measures) to secure that the requirements of the code of practice for that establishment, issued under subsection (3) above, are complied with.
(5) The establishments to which this section applies are:
(a) any university;
(b) any establishment which is maintained by a local education authority and for which section 1 of the 1968 (No. 2) Act (government and conduct of colleges of education and other institutions providing further education) requires there to be an instrument of government; and
(c) any establishment of further education designated by or under regulations made under section 27 of the 1980 Act as an establishment substantially dependent for its maintenance on assistance from local education authorities or on grants under section 100 (1) (b) of the 1944 Act.
(6) In this section:
"governing body", in relation to any university, means the executive governing body which has responsibility for the management and administration of its revenue and property and the conduct of its affairs (that is to say the body commonly called the council of the university);
"university" includes a university college and any college, or institution in the nature of a college, in a university.
(7) Where any establishment:
(a) falls within subsection (5) (b) above; or
(b) falls within subsection (5) (c) above by virtue of being substantially dependent for its maintenance on assistance from local education authorities; the local education authority or authorities maintaining or (as the case may be) assisting the establishment shall, for the purposes of this section, be taken to be concerned in its government.
(8) Where a students' union occupies premises which are not premises of the establishment in connection with which the union is constituted, any reference i n this section to the premises of the establishment shall be taken to include a reference to the premises occupied by the students' union.