The University of Glasgow and Scottish PEN annual symposium on free speech and hate crime

Jonathan Peters

“A Precarious Balance: Hate Speech and Free Expression”, the event will be held on 20 April at the university

The University of Glasgow and Scottish PEN will host their annual symposium this month to discuss free speech and hate crime, “A Precarious Balance: Hate Speech and Free Expression”. The event will be held on 20 April in room 1115 of the Adam Smith building. Tickets are free and can be reserved online.

The symposium will bring together leading experts on issues of free expression from across the globe, to debate questions around protecting this right and balancing it with the need to prevent hate crime. In recognition that this is can be a complex legal question, the event will be hosted by Andrew Tickell, law lecturer and regular contributor to the Scottish media on legal issues.

It will also be an opportunity to debate broader questions of rights and responsibilities in the digital environment, with experts including: Nighat Dad, the Executive Director of Digital Rights Foundation; Pauline Kelly, Media and Campaigns Officer of Amnesty International Scotland; Dave Scott, Campaign Director of Nil By Mouth; Rebecca Marek, Parliamentary and Policy Officer of the Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights and a representative from Stonewall Scotland.

The University of Glasgow recently published a statement on freedom of speech on campus, which states it is, “a place where debate and discussion of ideas should happen as a matter of course.” The statement emphasises the university’s support for individuals and groups to organise conferences, events, lectures and seminars on challenging topics, including speakers who may be controversial.

However, it also stresses the university’s legal and moral responsibilities to staff, students and members of the public. As the statement explains: “freedom of speech can sometimes mean upholding the right of some to offend others through their publicly expressed views or beliefs. This does not mean supporting the right to abuse. We encourage open and honest dialogue and we require that this takes place at all times within a tolerant and respectful environment.”

“The abuse of the principle of free speech can take a number of different forms. At its most extreme it can involve direct or incitement to violence. Actions which are intended to provoke hatred on grounds of a protected characteristic as defined in the Equality Act 2010 (for example based on an individual’s and/or groups race, religion, sexual orientation, or transgender identity) or to encourage or draw people into terrorism will not be tolerated at the University of Glasgow.”

“It is incumbent on all staff and students to demonstrate awareness of these issues both within their normal daily lives and when inviting, promoting – or demonstrating at – speakers or events.”

“As an institution, the University is mindful of its responsibilities to ensure that our premises are not being used for unlawful purposes, including those which may compromise the enjoyment of the freedom of speech of others.”

Freedom of expression in a pluralist society is a complex legal and moral issue, and this symposium is designed to allow students to debate these issues with experts and their peers.


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