Tuesday, January 13, 2015

University staff could go to jail for failing in "prevent" duty

Embedded video below of the Joint Committee on Human Rights session on 3 December 2014 at which security minister, James Brokenshire, in response to repeated questioning by Baroness Helena Kennedy, indicated university staff could go to prison for failing to fulfil our section 21 "prevent" duty satisfactorily, under the proposed Counter Terrorism And Security Bill. (Discussion on section 21 and universities starts about 10:50. Baroness Kennedy launches in about 10:57. Critical statement comes from Mr Brokenshire at 11.21.30 "Ultimately the Secretary of State would have to enforce that through the courts... a contempt of court in those circumstances." Baroness Kennedy asks "So they would jail the director of the college?" Mr Brokenshire deflects and prevaricates then on repeated pushing by Baroness Kennedy gets at 11:23:40 to "Ultimately it would be a contempt of court sanction" i.e jail time).

Martin Hall former vice-chancellor of the University of Salford, is one of many who think this is a bad idea. The Human Rights Committee itself has just published its report on the Bill also noting this is a bad idea and suggesting universities be exempt from the section 21 obligations
"6.11 In our view, because of the importance of freedom of speech and academic freedom in the context of university education, the entire legal framework which rests on the new "prevent" duty is not appropriate for application to universities. We recommend that the Bill be amended to remove universities from the list of specified authorities to which the new duty applies. Alternatively, we recommend that the Bill be amended to add the exercise of an academic function to the list of functions which are excepted from the application of the duty."

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