Update from the organisers, 31 March
It is with extreme astonishment and sadness that we have to inform you that the University of Southampton has told us earlier yesterday (Monday 30 March 2015) that it intends to withdraw its permission to hold the academic conference on International Law and the State of Israel. We were told that the decision was taken on the grounds of health and safety: a number of groups may be demonstrating for or against the conference which could present risks to the safety of the participants, students and staff. The University claims that it does not have enough resources to mitigate the risks, despite a clear statement from the Police confirming that they are able to deal with the protest and ensure the security of the event.
As the law stands, the University is legally obliged to uphold freedom of speech, and - unlike in some engineering projects for example where health and safety may be the only legal obligation – the requirement of minimising risk should also fall onto the Police as the agency that is entrusted with the enforcement of the law (freedom of speech) and the provision of security. The mitigating measure should therefore include policing in addition to what the university can reasonably provide using its own security resources. We are therefore extremely dissatisfied with the risk assessment conducted by the University which seems to lack consistency; high risks remained high even when seemingly effective mitigating measures were put in place. Crucially and additionally, the risk assessment does not seem to include all possible risk mitigating measures that could be provided by the police.