The Charity Commission has published updates to Chapter five of its guidance for ‘Protecting charities from harm’, which supports charity trustees to manage some of the challenges associated with hosting speakers and debates.
In its evidence and response to the Joint Committee on Human Rights inquiry into freedom of speech in universities, the commission said it was committed to updating the guidance as it recognised “it has not always been read in the manner in which it was intended”.
The commission’s published guidance sets out areas of charity law and practice, and assists trustees in the practical application of key principles.
Chapter five of its toolkit on ‘Protecting charities from harm’, which is designed as guidance for all charities has been updated to help charities that regularly host or hold events at their premises, use speakers at events or distribute literature (whether or not produced by the charity), to further their charity’s purposes through the promotion and exchange of views and ideas.
The guidance is clear that the right to freedom of expression is an important element in furthering educational charitable purposes, and enabling debate and discussion is an important part of this.
The updated guidance:
- Highlights the centrality of freedom of speech to charities with purposes to advance education.
- Stresses the positive and important role students’ unions and higher education providers have in the context of free speech and in educating through activism and discussion.
- Stresses what charities can do in order to support trustees to support charity trustees to manage some of the challenges associated with hosting speakers and debates.
- Places due weight on the fact that inhibiting lawful free speech could damage a students’ union’s reputation, including their independence and credibility.
In publishing the updated guidance, Aarti Thakor, director of legal services at the Charity Commission said: “Charitable students’ unions and higher education providers play a vital role in providing space for discussion and debate, encouraging students to develop political awareness, to challenge their own views and perceptions and to exchange ideas on a range of issues.
“It is clear that freedom of speech can be integral to charities’ activities in carrying out educational purposes. However it is known that freedom of speech is a qualified right and it must not be used as an excuse to fall short on legal duties. In engaging with and providing these important opportunities for their members, trustees must ensure they put their charity’s best interests first, and limit any undue risk of harm.”