Stop using equality laws to restrict free speech, universities warned

Archbishop Jerome Lloyd OSJVPosted by

Chief executive of the Office for Students said promoting a particular protected characteristic ‘to the detriment of others’ may be unlawful.

Universities must stop using equality laws as an excuse to restrict free speech, the head of the higher education watchdog has warned.

Susan Lapworth, chief executive of the Office for Students, said that “too often” universities are curtailing free speech by “leaning more fully” into their equality duties “than the law supports”.

Universities have a legal duty under the Equality Act 2010 to eliminate discrimination, harassment and victimisation on the basis of characteristics including age, disability, religion, sex, gender reassignment and sexual orientation. 

However, the Office for Students will warn universities on Thursday that policies which promote a particular protected characteristic “to the detriment of others”, may “amount to unlawful discrimination” and could have the effect of “curtailing” freedom of expression.

Ms Lapworth said that the new guidance drawn up by the regulator highlights the “importance of universities really understanding the nature of that free speech duty, alongside their equality duties”.

Stop using equality laws to restrict free speech, universities warned

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