Statement from Oxford Students for Life Responding to Oxford SU’s “Right to protest, Right to choose” statement
With their latest statement, WomCam have decided to double down on their attack on free speech, while claiming that they are doing no such thing.
They claim in their statement that they “were not protesting Oxford Students for Life or their speakers’ right to free speech” and that they “were not breaking the law”.
We’ve received legal advice that WomCam were breaking the law precisely because they were denying our freedom of speech.
Under Section 43 of the Education (No 2) Act 1986, the University is required “to issue and keep up to date a code of practice to be followed by all members, students and employees of the University for the organisation of meetings and other events”.
The code of practice is as follows:
“Members, students and employees of the University must conduct themselves at meetings and other events on University and OUSU premises so as to ensure that freedom of speech within the law is secured for members, students and employees of the University and for visiting speakers. The University believes that a culture of free, open and robust discussion can be achieved only if all concerned avoid needlessly offensive or provocative action and language. The freedom protected by this Code of Practice is confined to the exercise of freedom of speech within the law.”
Given that the protesters shouted down the event continuously for 40 minutes, called the attendees and speakers “anti-choice bigots”, gave attendees the middle finger, and blocked the projector screen, we’re confident that they engaged in “needlessly offensive or provocative action and language” and did not “conduct themselves at meetings and other events on University and OUSU premises so as to ensure that freedom of speech within the law is secured for members, students and employees of the University and for visiting speakers.”
Considering Oxford SU’s statement that “Bodily autonomy is not up for debate”, they confirm in their statement itself that they were not acting to facilitate “open and robust discussion”.
We’ve received legal advice that had they protested outside, or even staged a walk-out, they would have been within their rights. But disrupting the event for 40 minutes in this way breached the University’s Code of Practice on Freedom of Speech. By ignoring security requests to leave the venue, they were also guilty of aggravated trespass.
WomCam of course have a right to freedom to expression. But a right to freedom of speech does not mean the right to prevent other people from speaking.