Birmingham student told to pay '£50k' after university takes court action against her

A University of Birmingham student has vowed to continue her pro-Palestinian activism in the face of potential expulsion and 'huge' legal fees. Mariyah Ali, 20, from Walsall, lost her case in court this week as the University of Birmingham successfully obtained a High Court order to reclaim possession of campus areas where activists had set up encampments since early May.

Mariyah Ali, an English student, appeared in court this week accusing the university of censoring students' beliefs about Gaza by seeking to shut down the camps. On Tuesday, July 10, the High Court ruled in favour of the university and ordered students to end the occupation of the 'Green Heart' space on the Edgbaston campus, previously home to over 80 tents.

The ruling leaves Mariyah Ali, the only named defendant in the case, liable for both her own and the university's legal fees, which she claims amount to between £40-50,000. The University of Birmingham said legal action was 'not a decision taken lightly' but necessary to 'look after the interests of the whole University community.'

READ MORE: Watch the dramatic moment brave officers form human chain to rescue woman from sinking car

In court, Mariyah argued pro-Palestine protests on campus were peaceful and had legitimate aims, arguing that closing the camps would interfere with her rights to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. She also challenged the university over alleged links to arms firms 'complicit' in the loss of life in Palestine.

On Tuesday, the High Court granted summary possession orders, which decided the cases in the universities' favour without a full trial. Reacting to the ruling, Mariyah Ali told BirminghamLive : "This decision infringes on all of our rights to protest. I fundamentally believe in this cause and I think it's important we fight this."

Mariyah Ali outside the Royal Courts of Justice, London.
Mariyah Ali outside the Royal Courts of Justice, London. -Credit:PA

Mariyah, who currently has an ongoing disciplinary case open with the university over a separate pro-Palestine protest, said the ruling could put her future at the university in doubt. She added: "Because of my ongoing disciplinary case there is also a risk of expulsion, but let's hope it doesn't come to that.

"Right now, as the only named defendant in the case, I'm liable to pay all my own and the university's legal fees. I don't know the exact amount but it's looking likely to be around £40-50,000. It's disheartening that our university decided to take us to court rather than sitting down and listening to us.

"We're still yet to hear anything from our Vice Chancellor, that offer of a meeting is still on the table. Getting kicked off the campus is a bit of a blow, but we're confident that even if the camp leaves, the activism on campus won't stop."

Students at pro-Palestine camp at the University of Birmingham's main Edgbaston campus.
Students at pro-Palestine camp at the University of Birmingham's main Edgbaston campus. -Credit:SWNS

In court, the High Court ruling concluded that protesting students had been trespassing, and said there were 'many other ways' activists could exercise their right to protest. Protestors, who universities have been unable to identify, accuse academic institutions of being 'complicit' in Palestinian bloodshed and call for a 'divestment' from links to arms companies.

Mariyah said she was considering the prospect of an appeal and was currently seeking legal advice. A University of Birmingham spokesperson said: "We welcome the court’s decision to grant an immediate order for possession for all of the University’s land.

"Bringing legal action is not a decision taken lightly, but was necessary to look after the interests of the whole University community. The court's decision will help us to ensure that all of our diverse community can go about their business and use the entirety of the University's campus without feeling that there are parts of campus where they cannot go.

"We acknowledge that some students and staff may wish to take part in protests about issues that matter to them, and have always respected their right to do so within the law. In its judgement, the court recognised that the University's Freedom of Speech process is robust and has a long track record of supporting a wide range of opinions to be expressed. We will continue to uphold our strong commitment to free speech for the whole of the University community."