Free Speech Matters
Free Speech Matters
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Latest: Feb. 28, 2019
Appeal is lodged in court
Despite some inaccurate reporting in the press, saying we have 'lost' the case, we have not lost as we have yet to get a hearing for it! We will persist in this and to tha…Read more
Bath Spa University refused to allow me to pursue my research into people who reverse gender reassignment.
WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT.
Free speech and an independent academia capable of critical thought is a cornerstone of our democracy. My lawyers contend that Bath Spa University’s veto of this important research is a failure of the university to comply with its duties under the Human Rights Act and the Equality Act. If a university - a place for the exchange of ideas, discussion, dissent, questioning, research and critical thinking - is unable to tolerate the risk of criticism, where then are left the most basic tenets of academic and intellectual freedom of enquiry? The implications for a democratic society of the suppression of information and discussion are deeply worrying. As George Orwell wrote "if liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear". (1)
Suppression of freedom of speech in universities has become a widespread problem and a threat to critical thinking and a democratic society. I believe that the only way we will change this is through the courts. This case will be groundbreaking and has the chance to set an important legal precedent.
ABOUT ME AND HOW I HAVE BEEN AFFECTED.
I am a self employed counsellor and therapist, my working life is dedicated to helping people in distress. I am one individual taking on a large publicly funded institution – it’s rather like a cyclist facing a juggernaut. I deeply believe that the research I proposed is important to the well being of the transgendered community. It has been extremely stressful to find myself embroiled in these proceedings which I think should be of great concern to anyone who values free speech and knowledge.
I am a counsellor and trainer specialising for over a decade in working with transgendered people. I became aware that there appear to be a growing number of people who have sought to reverse the surgery they had as part of a gender transition. As part of a self funded Masters degree at Bath Spa University I applied for permission to research this group to find out more. Gender Reassignment Surgery includes surgery to the genitals, and for women changing to male, often removal of the breasts. I wanted to talk to the people who regretted their GRS and then had surgery to try to reverse the original surgery. There is no research into this phenomenon, and it is needed to develop insight into why this is happening and to learn from these peoples’ experiences. I was invited by the hosts to bring my findings to the European Professional Association of Transgender Health conference in Belgrade in 2017. This was not to happen, as the university vetoed my research.
Initially the university had given me permission to begin the research, and later I widened the proposal to include people who reversed their gender transition without necessarily reversing the surgery. This was because at first it was difficult to find people willing to speak openly about their reversal – one person said they were too traumatised to talk about it – confirming the need for the research. I was also contacted by a spokeswoman for a group of young women in the US who had transitioned to male, had their breasts removed, then reversed the transition. They wanted me to know that they didn’t reverse their surgery, and so wouldn’t qualify for my research. I then decided to include those who reversed transition without reversing surgery, as there appeared to be a growing number of people in this group too, and yet there was little current research or discussion of this in the gender field.
In November 2016 Bath Spa University refused my re-application, fundamentally on the basis that it might attract unpleasant comments on social media, which they said might be detrimental to the reputation of the university. In January 2017 there was a final ruling which supported this decision and the university also refused to refund me the fees which I had paid when I requested them back.
My lawyers prepared to apply for a Judicial Review of their decision. Judicial Review applications have to be made 'promptly but in any event within three months' of the decision complained of so to protect my position I made the application but asked that the case be held in abeyance whilst the University considered my complaint. The court refused and ordered me to pay the university's legal costs of £4,929. We then had to wait for the university to finish its complaints procedure, which it did in December 2017, before applying again for a Judicial review.
Watch my Youtube interview with Dr Amitay from February 2018 about this case and why it is so important :
WHERE THE CASE IS NOW.
The university has concluded its complaints procedure and is sticking to its guns, saying that the only mistake it has made is to have passed my initial research proposal in the first place. (If you remember, it did this before rejecting my amended proposal). The defence given is that the ethics committee's decision was an academic decision, which one may not challenge. I and my lawyers maintain that, as the definition of an academic decision is that it is one that can only be made by an academic, that it did not require an academic to make a decision based on fear of criticism on social media, and therefore the decision to reject my research proposal was not an academic decision at all. The university has also said that it is for a court to decide what is an academic decision.
This means that I now need to raise in the region of £50,000 to take the university to court for a Judicial Review. I have so far raised £14,000 on my previous Crowdjustice page, see https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/uphold-freedom-of-speech-in-our-universities/
I believe that it is more important than ever that we take this chance of having a legal precedent set that will prevent universities from stopping research on spurious grounds. This is because, since I started this campaign, I have discovered that it is an endemic problem in universities. See here for my interview and other academics' experiences on this subject in a recent edition of the Sunday Telegraph
I am crowdfunding for the money to cover my legal expenses in bringing this case to court. Please help to uphold the right to freedom of speech by pledging funds, and telling your friends and contacts.
(1) George Orwell: ‘The Freedom of the Press’
First published: The Times Literary Supplement, September 15, 1972.
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Feb. 28, 2019
Appeal is lodged in court
Despite some inaccurate reporting in the press, saying we have 'lost' the case, we have not lost as we have yet to get a hearing for it! We will persist in this and to that end earlier this week my lawyers appealed the previous week's refusal to grant a Judicial Review on procedural grounds.
The Appeal will be on paper, so there will be no need attend the court this time, and the decision should be within two weeks.
The Court of Appeal has three options :
The first is to refuse; and this would then be the end of the road in the U.K. We would then apply to the European Court of Human Rights. (Note, no connection to the E.U. so not affected by Brexit).
The second is to permit the appeal, and re-direct a fresh High Court hearing.
The third (and this is the interesting one); to hear argument on permission themselves (in the Court of Appeal) and then go on to determine the case. In other words, we could go direct to the Court of Appeal and entirely miss the High Court.
Feb. 20, 2019
Latest application for Judicial Review rejected
After a well attended and long hearing yesterday in front of Michael Kent Q.C., the judge said he thought that we should have
a) appealed against the previous refusal of permission for a Judicial Review rather than re-apply, and/or
b) applied for a J.R. against the Office for the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education rather than the university
and so decided not to allow us a Judicial Review of Bath Spa's vetoing of my research.
In other words, we were refused permission for a Judicial Review on points of procedure. However, the judge did say that is not to say that the court would approve of the university preventing research due to fear of criticism on social media. He was clearly sympathetic to the case but felt that his hands were tied by legal procedure.
We will be appealing this decision and I will post progress on this when we have it.
Feb. 5, 2019
We've got a court date to speak in support of applying for Judicial Review!
The High Court has decided to allow us an oral hearing to apply for permission for a Judicial Review of Bath Spa University's vetoing of my research into people reversing their gender transitions. This means that for the first time my barrister will be able to speak publicly about why this case is important and to ask the judge to grant us a Judicial review in the High Court. The date is Tuesday 19th February at the Royal Courts of Justice on the Strand, London WC2.
Oct. 29, 2018
Application for Judicial Review has gone ahead
My lawyers have reactivated the application for permission to hold a Judicial Review against both the university and the Office for the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education.
On 25th September 2018 the OIAHE issued its decision about my complaint against Bath Spa University, and found the complaint to be partially justified, because it said that the university had dealt with it inadequately. However, most crucially, it failed to address the central issue - that the fundamental reason the university gave for declining my research proposal was that it might attract criticism on social media which would in turn, be criticism of the university - instead saying that the research was ethically complex and that the university simply failed to explain that adequately.
I am now raising funds to continue the case which is now against two defendants and will need to raise upwards of £35,000. Please help me to achieve this by pledging, tweeting and sharing on Facebook.
June 14, 2018
Adjudicator agrees to review complaint!
On May 16th the High Court issued a consent order upon the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education "agreeing to conduct a fresh review of the Claimant's complaint against the first defendant" (Bath Spa University).
The Adjudicator had, last December, refused to look at my complaint after I asked them to, (it was necessary to approach them to exhaust all possibilities before applying again for a J.R.), and so my lawyers then included them as a defendant in our application for Judicial Review. Subsequently, they have decided to investigate after all, and so we are now waiting for the result of that investigation before we can proceed to Judicial Review.
The court has stayed the application for Judicial Review until one month after I am notified of the result of the review of my complaint.
April 25, 2018
We've reached our initial target!
Good news - my new CrowdJustice page has succeeded in hitting the £2,000 target by 20th April, as required by CrowdJustice rules! This means that the new page can remain open to continue to raise funds to cover my legal costs. The new stretch target is £5,000.
I am still waiting to hear from the court and will update you as soon as I have news. I am still fundraising and ask that you continue to share the link on social media, email etc.
A big thank you to all of you.
April 3, 2018
Second phase of funding
This is the second phase of fundraising to challenge Bath Spa university's decision in court. The application was lodged in the High Court in March 2018 and we will know the result of that in April. My ultimate target will be in the region of £35,000, but first I need to reach £2000 by 20th April 2018.
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