Is freedom of expression in academia under threat from academics themselves?

By Prof Steven Greer, Professor of Human Rights (University of Bristol Law School)

Freedom of expression has long been extolled by those who love freedom generally. For example, attempting to capture Voltaire’s commitment to it, historian Evelyn Beatrice Hall coined the famous phrase, wrongly attributed to the French philosophe himself – ‘I disapprove of what you say but will defend to the death your right to say it’. George Orwell also once memorably quipped: ‘If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people things they don’t want to hear’. And, according to the European Court of Human Rights, this includes offending, shocking and disturbing.[1]

Spats, fall-outs, intellectual and personal feuds, have, of course, been commonplace amongst scholars since antiquity. And before the institutionalisation of the right to free speech in the west, the consequences could be much more serious than ruffled feathers. In the 16th century, for example, questioning the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation – that the wine and wafers used in the Mass miraculously turn into the physical body of Christ upon consumption – could result in being burned at the stake as a heretic. In the centuries since, the west has become accustomed to vigorous, legally-protected, yet not always even-tempered academic debates. For example, arguably making a bid for the most disrespectful scholarly put-down on record, nineteenth century German philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer, denounced his much more famous and influential contemporary, Hegel, as a ‘flat-headed, insipid, nauseating, illiterate charlatan’. (more…)

Three cheers for the independent review of Prevent

By Prof Steven Greer, Professor of Human Rights and Dr Lindsey Bell, Lecturer in Law (University of Bristol Law School).

Of the four ‘Ps’ which frame the UK’s counterterrorist strategy – Pursue, Prepare, Protect and Prevent – the latter is by far the most controversial. It aims to stop people from becoming terrorists, or from supporting those who already are, by countering terrorist ideology and challenging those who promote it (‘counter-radicalization’), steering vulnerable individuals away from it (‘de-radicalization’), and working with sectors and institutions where these risks are considered high. Over 50,000 people and over 2,500 institutions – including schools, universities, mosques, and faith groups – engage with Prevent in over 40 priority areas and over a million people have received relevant training. De-radicalization is coordinated by Channel, an official multi-agency initiative offering non-compulsory, tailor-made support plans based on counselling and encouragement of approved activities, to those willing to receive them. On 22 January 2019 the security minister, Ben Wallace, announced that Prevent would be independently reviewed in accordance with an amendment to the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill currently wending its way through parliament. This should be welcomed by everyone with an interest in effective, human rights-compliant counterterrorist law and policy and particularly by those, like us, who have long contested the mythology of the anti-Prevent movement. (more…)

Six myths about the ‘Prevent duty’ in universities

By Prof Steven Greer, Professor of Human Rights, and Dr Lindsey Bell, Lecturer in Law (University of Bristol Law School).

The Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 (CTSA) has aroused great controversy by imposing a legal duty upon schools, universities, the NHS and other institutions to ‘have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism’ (the ‘Prevent duty’). However, in an article published in the current issue of the academic journal Public Law, ‘Counter-Terrorist Law in British Universities: A Review of the “Prevent” Debate’, we argue that the campaign against the Act and the duty in higher education rests largely upon myths, six of which are particularly prevalent. In this blog, we provide a summary of those myths (you can also watch a short video outlining the main arguments). (more…)

On Harvey Weinstein the Sexual Predator, or Business as Usual

By Dr Yvette Russell, Lecturer in Law (University of Bristol Law School).*

By David Shankbone – CC BY 3.0

The last few weeks have seen the revelation that Harvey Weinstein, renowned Hollywood producer of such award-winning films as Gangs of New York, Pulp Fiction, and Shakespeare in Love, moonlighted as a prolific sexual predator. A significant number of women have now made public complaints of sexual harassment and assault against Weinstein, including well-known Hollywood stars Gwyneth Paltrow, Rose McGowan, and Angelina Jolie. Weinstein is also reportedly facing allegations of rape. His wife, Georgina Chapman, announced she was leaving him, the company he co-founded fired him, and police on both sides of the Atlantic have opened investigations into him.

The media discourse that greeted the revelations has been characterised by astonishment at the scale of the alleged offending, and the failure of those making allegations to have come forward sooner. In fact, there is often evidence of a long line of complaints against men who are finally revealed in mainstream media to be chronic sexual predators. In Weinstein’s case there is evidence of three decades of prior complaints by women, at least two of which were reported to police. The public disclosure of these allegations was repeatedly thwarted by the use of non-disclosure agreements, the alleged ‘killing’ of news stories on the topic, and the habitual capacity of those who knew about it to ignore it. In the case of Jimmy Savile in the UK, believed to have preyed unimpeded for 60 years on around 500 vulnerable victims as young as two years old, a 2013 HMIC report found at least seven complaints against Savile in police records since 1964.  (more…)