Universities of Birmingham and Nottingham win court order on Gaza protest camps

-Credit: (Image: Nick Wilkinson/Birmingham Live)
-Credit: (Image: Nick Wilkinson/Birmingham Live)


The Universities of Nottingham and Birmingham have successfully obtained High Court orders to reclaim possession of campus areas that have been occupied by pro-Palestinian protest camps for several weeks.

Both institutions pursued legal action against "persons unknown" along with two identified activists, aiming to terminate the prolonged encampments where tents had been pitched since early May.

On Tuesday, in separate written judgments, a judge issued summary possession orders, effectively ruling in favour of the universities without necessitating a full trial.

READ MORE: Ryanair makes Birmingham Airport announcement as airline bosses say 'significant'

Get breaking news on BirminghamLive WhatsApp

Mr Justice Johnson determined that the demonstrators had "no real prospect" of successfully arguing that the universities had failed in their duties or that the possession orders would infringe upon their human rights.

The court's decision affects the University of Nottingham's Jubilee Campus, which saw approximately 10 to 15 tents erected near its Advanced Manufacturing Building.

Additionally, the order encompasses the University of Birmingham 's "Green Heart" space on the Edgbaston campus, previously home to over 80 tents, as well as the Exchange Building in central Birmingham and the Selly Oak campus, although no protests are currently taking place there.

During the hearings in London last week, it was revealed to the judge that these encampments were part of broader national university protests, aligned with North American demonstrations and expressing solidarity with individuals in the war-afflicted region of Gaza.

Protestors, who universities have been unable to identify, accuse academic institutions of being "complicit" in Palestinian bloodshed and call for a "divest" from links to arms companies.

Mariyah Ali, a 20 year old Muslim British-Pakistani student from Walsall, stands as the only identified defendant in the Birmingham case. She brands the legal action as a "censoring tactic" and an act of discrimination against her religious and philosophical beliefs manifested.

In Nottingham's legal challenge, former scholar River Butterworth, 24, from Warwickshire, stands as the sole named protestor. He purported that a court order aiding in "evicting" the encampment would equate to a "disproportionate interference" affecting their rights to free speech and protest.

The university's solicitors pointed the finger at protestors for alleged trespassing on private lands, causing public disturbances and financial losses while being connected to "unlawful activities". Without making any judgement on the disputed accounts of alleged disruptive acts.

Justice Johnson shared his two rulings guided by the assumption that the camps were displaying "peaceful" behaviour. The judge deemed that evidence indicated universities weren't trying to reclaim their land due to the protestors' belief, but instead, the legal action stood as the "least intrusive" means to achieve this goal.

Justice Johnson stated that "many other ways" existed for activists to exercise their right to protest without resorting to occupying land, arriving at the conclusion that protestors indeed trespassed.

Following the London School of Economics obtaining a Central London County Court order that indefinitely bans encampments within one of its buildingsafter students occupied its atrium for over a month in solidarity with PalestineQueen Mary University of London has also indicated it would pursue legal measures to reclaim possession of its Mile End campus if protest camps persist.

Ms Ali expressed her disappointment with the court's verdict, stating: "I am incredibly disappointed by the court's decision today to restrict my right to protest."

She further conveyed her dismay at her university's actions, saying she was "deeply saddened" to see them "trying to silence students to protect their ties with arms manufacturers such as BAE systems", and accused them of betraying their principles by "contradicted their values by restricting my right to challenge longstanding ideas and advocating for BDS (Boycott Divest Sanctions) and Palestinian liberation".

The University of Birmingham's legal representatives have previously refuted any involvement in the repercussions of the Gaza conflict.

Oliver Edwards, a solicitor from Hodge Jones & Allen representing Ms Ali, commented on her reaction, noting she was "disheartened" yet "remains committed to her cause".

He emphasized the importance of university protests in democratic societies and insisted that "Protests at universities have a long tradition in democratic society and we maintain that the university is breaching our client's fundamental human rights," according to his stance.

He disclosed that Ms Ali is planning to "restate her BDS protest" and is contemplating an appeal.

A University of Birmingham spokesperson commented: "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."

They continued by stating the university's respect for the right to protest "within the law" and reaffirmed: "We will continue to uphold our strong commitment to free speech for the whole of the university community."

Meanwhile, a representative from the University of Nottingham remarked: "The University of Nottingham upholds freedom of speech and our priority is, and always will be, to ensure that opportunities to engage in debate or protest are safe, inclusive, dignified, respectful and responsible."

They added: "The order from the court will allow us to ensure that we can take action should the need arise to protect the health and safety of our university community on campus and to minimise disruption to students and staff accessing the teaching, learning and research spaces they require."