The government’s Charity Commission has today published updates to chapter 5 of its “protecting charities from harm toolkit”, which supports charity trustees to manage some of the challenges associated with hosting speakers and debates.
In the commission’s evidence and response to the joint committee on human rights inquiry into freedom of speech in universities, it committed to updating this guidance as it recognised the legislation has not always been read in the manner in which it was intended.
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.”
He added: “We want to see all charities thrive for the betterment of the communities they serve. This updated guidance will help trustees ensure balance and make good decisions, bolstering their positive impact on society.”
The commission says 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”