The Best Student Life. Bristol SU

Free Speech & External Speakers - Key Information

What is an External Speaker?

Someone who is neither a student nor staff member at the University of Bristol or Bristol SU, who is invited to address UoB students at an event.

Why do External Speaker events need approval?

The Government instructs Universities and their SUs to take steps to prevent illegal speech and enable all other speech.

Who approves External Speakers?

For events in University premises, the University is the decision maker. For SU student group events everywhere else, the SU is the decision maker.

How is the decision made?

At least two weeks before an event is due to take place, the organiser submits a request form which includes their assessment. The SU looks at this, and we complete our own assessment. For events of significant concern, the SU assessment is then forwarded on to the relevant decision maker.


The assessments look at the risks around the event, and unless there is a likelihood that a speaker will break the law, the SU will suggest steps that help ensure the event goes ahead safely.

What kind of steps can be taken?

There are several possible steps that can be taken, depending on the risk level. The most common are:

  • Ticketing the event
  • Arranging a security presence for the event
  • Appointing an experienced chairperson

Why does the SU allow External Speakers that are considered problematic?

In cases where the university is the decision maker, we can make a recommendation, but don’t have the power to say no. In cases where we are the decision maker, speech can only be limited if it would break criminal law.


Most problematic speech does not break criminal law and cannot be limited even if we disagree with it. This is because the law protects freedom of expression up to the point where that expression breaks another law.


Some of the criminal offences that may occur in relation to speech include causing fear or provocation of violence, stirring up hatred, causing a person harassment, alarm or distress. Ultimately the courts decide whether a person has committed these offences. For us to determine that a speaker is likely to break the law, we would expect to see evidence that an appropriate authority deems this to be the case. This is because views expressed in debate or discussion on matters of public interest are unlikely to be seen as harassment under the law, even if they are deeply offensive to some of the people who are listening.  

How does SU policy on Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia effect External Speakers?

The definitions we've adopted set out our expected behaviour for members and staff when participating in SU activities but cannot be used to limit External Speakers' freedom of speech. 

What is the SU doing for students who have a problem with External Speakers?

We can help our groups to run an alternative event or put together plans to protest safely.


SU Networks work with the wider organisation to run awareness campaigns, and we use our student group training to push student groups to be more inclusive and considerate.


Elected officers may speak out against events that they are unhappy with.