Birmingham and Nottingham universities win fight to close pro-Palestine camps

Birmingham and Nottingham universities win fight to close pro-Palestine camps

By Eleanor Harding Daily Mail Education Editor

22:42 10 Jul 2024, updated 23:00 10 Jul 2024

  • Summary possession orders allow universities to remove activists from their premises

Two major universities have won the right to begin eviction proceedings against pro-Palestine protesters who have been camping out for weeks.

The universities of Nottingham and Birmingham were yesterday given High Court orders allowing them to expel the activists.

Summary possession orders mean that if protesters do not leave, chiefs can request that they be forcibly removed by bailiffs.

Dozens of tents have been set up on both campuses for weeks, with students demanding that the universities cut any ties with Israel.

Critics said the camps disrupted university life and created a hostile environment for Jewish and Israeli students.

A pro-Palestinian student camp at the University of Birmingham. Both the Universities of Birmingham and Nottingham have obtained summary possession orders to remove the activists from their premises
Muslim student Mariyah Ali, 20, called the legal action a “censorship tactic” and said it amounted to discrimination against her beliefs
A police vehicle outside the north gate of the University of Birmingham, which has previously threatened activists with legal action if they do not close their camps

The two universities have taken separate legal action against the protesters in general, as well as against two named activists.

British-Pakistani Muslim student Mariyah Ali, 20, from Walsall, the only named defendant in the Birmingham case, said the legal action was a “censorship tactic”. She also claimed it amounted to discrimination against the “expression” of her religious and philosophical beliefs.

Former student River Butterworth, 24, from Warwickshire, the only protester named in the Nottingham court case, argued it would be a “disproportionate interference” with free speech and protest rights.

However, lawyers for the universities accused the protesters of trespassing on private land, posing a risk of public nuisance and causing disruption and financial loss.

In two written decisions yesterday, Mr Justice Johnson granted the orders and concluded that the protesters had “no real prospect” of showing that the universities had breached their duties or that an order would be incompatible with their human rights.

He said there were “many other ways” activists could exercise their right to protest without occupying land, concluding that protesters were trespassing.

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Oliver Edwards, a lawyer at Hodge Jones & Allen who represented Ms Ali, said: “Naturally my client is disheartened by this sentence, but she remains committed to her cause.

‘Protests at universities have a long tradition in democratic society and we maintain that the university is violating the fundamental human rights of our customers.’

He said the company is considering appealing the ruling. The rulings follow the London School of Economics securing an order from Central London County Court indefinitely banning camping at one of its buildings after students slept in its atrium for more than a month in support of Palestine.

Queen Mary University of London previously said it would take legal action to secure ownership of its Mile End campus if the protest camps were not ended.

This comes after encampments were set up on campuses across the country, apparently copying similar actions at American universities.

In May, former Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said there was “always a fear” that protests could turn violent, like those at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

She said: ‘What we don’t want is for our campuses to become unsafe environments for students or staff and go down the path you see in other places like the US…’

There is always the fear of contagion and, obviously, there are some groups that also encourage this.

In his written rulings, Judge Johnson said there were other ways for students to protest without occupying land.
Former education secretary Gillian Keegan said there was “always a fear” that the protests could turn violent, like many demonstrations at US universities. Pictured: A pro-Palestinian barricade at California State University

A University of Birmingham spokesperson said: “The court’s decision will help us ensure that our entire diverse community can go about their business and use the entire university campus without feeling like there are parts of campus they cannot go to.”

The institution said it respected the right of students and staff to protest “within the law”, adding: “We will continue to maintain our strong commitment to freedom of expression for the entire university community.”

A spokesperson for the University of Nottingham said: ‘The University of Nottingham champions freedom of expression and our priority is, and always will be, to ensure that opportunities for debate or protest are safe, inclusive, dignified, respectful and responsible.

‘The court’s order will allow us to ensure that we can take steps, if necessary, to protect the health and safety of our campus community and minimize disruption to students and staff access to the teaching, learning and research spaces they need.’