Uni free speech threatened by ‘anti-terror’ plans – top QC

Sinister “professors of morals” could be produced by so-called anti-terror legislation which requires university checks on any “non violent extremism”, a former senior criminal prosecutor has warned.

Ken Macdonald QC, a former Director of Public Prosecutions, said “whole swathes” of Western intellectual history would fall foul of the proposals.

Under the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill, university societies, including Christian Unions, would be forced to hand over presentations to be vetted.


They would also have to submit names of speakers to be checked two weeks in advance, risking their events being cancelled by university authorities.

Writing about the Bill and related guidance, Liberal Democrat Peer Lord Macdonald noted that universities will be required to “do much more than to report a terrorist in the nest”, they will have to “ban and report to the police what the guidance describes as ‘non violent extremism'”.

“In future, apparently, it will be forbidden for anyone at a university to argue that democracy is wrong in principle (goodbye Plato), or to give a talk that fails ‘to respect individual liberty’ or to offer ‘mutual respect and tolerance (to) different faiths and beliefs’ (adieu to whole swathes of our Western intellectual history)”.

Unworkable intolerance

“So it seems that we shall be bequeathed professors of morals in a more sinister sense than we are presently used to”, he added.

In his article for The Times newspaper, he also said that the plans were nothing to do with “what a university is there for” and “won’t make any of us one jot safer”.

Lord Macdonald, who also heads Wadham College at the University of Oxford, said the Home Office is not grasping the belief “that the state should lay off the intellect unless thoughts amount to real crime”, and instead has proposed “an unworkable intolerance”.


He concluded that the UK’s attachment to academic freedom is a treasure: “We plough up the delicate borders of this beauty at our peril.”

Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights has already raised concerns about the Bill’s effect on freedom of expression, warning that the “legal uncertainty” about the definition of ‘extremist’ “will have a seriously inhibiting effect on bona fide academic debate in universities”.

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