Protesting legally and freedom of speech

This page covers our expectations on student behaviour, in relation to protest and freedom of speech. This includes guidance about keeping safe online and being aware of radicalisation (a process in which a person or a group develops extreme views or beliefs).

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Freedom of speech  

Diversity, acceptance and being open-minded are necessary for a democratic society. We believe our community should be free to express any point of view and be treated with tolerance and mutual respect, even if that point of view is difficult to hear.

Read how you can legally and safely share your views and support causes in our freedom of speech policy 2023/ 24 (PDF).

We support the right of our students to peacefully and respectfully discuss, debate and challenge different positions on global issues. However, this must always be within the law.  

We also have a responsibility to ensure that our environment is a safe, welcoming and inclusive space for our entire international community of staff, students and visitors.

As a student at the University of Bristol, you have committed to our student agreement (PDF), including the acceptable behaviour policy (PDF).  

How to peacefully protest 

We all have the right to protest peacefully and have our voices heard, as long as you are not causing harm or damage to people or property.

If you are protesting, you must not make other people or groups feel vulnerable (meaning unsafe physically or emotionally) or threatened.  

You should be aware that by taking part in a protest, your image could be shared in the media, or via social media. This could include anything you share on your personal social media accounts that are not set to ‘private’.  

Protesting on campus 

If you decide to take part in a protest on campus and you become involved in promoting, justifying, inciting (encouraging) or committing violence, damaging property, or affecting the safety of others, you will be breaking the law and could face severe consequences. 

If considered appropriate, our Security Services team and/or the police will take action to protect our community and property. In cases of misconduct, you may also be subject to our disciplinary procedure (PDF).

If you are planning a protest on campus

You should: 

  • Give as much notice as possible of the time, date, and location of the planned protest to our Security Services Team 
  • Follow the External speaker: code of practice (PDF)
  • Request and follow all safety, security, and location advice given to you by the University and Students’ Union
  • Clearly communicate information about the protest to the participants, including any relevant University guidance 
  • Leave the area as you found it. 

You should not:

  • Use bullying, abusive, or threatening language in any communications, including placards, banners and posters
  • Disrupt planned teaching or our business  
  • Intentionally or carelessly damage any property as part of your protest 
  • Attach posters or banners to our property without permission 
  • Undertake any other activities that break the UK law, including promoting and expressing support for proscribed (illegal) terrorist organisations in the UK, which may be considered a criminal offence. 

If you are not part of the protest, do not prevent speakers from talking, people from attending, or doing anything that is designed to prevent the event taking place. 

If a protest gets out of hand, call the emergency number for our Security Services team on 0117 3311223.

Alternative ways of protesting

You could consider other to protest, such as: 

Whichever way you choose to voice your opinion, you must not use hate speech or cause violence.  

Student disciplinary regulations  

The student disciplinary regulations (PDF) set out actions that we would consider as misconduct and which could potentially be in line with protest activity. 

Protesting off campus

Any protests must be lawful. If you are involved in a non-peaceful demonstration (protest) off campus, that risks damage to property and public safety, you will be breaking the law and it will become a police matter.

This also breaks our student agreement, risking your safety and impacting our reputation. If you are subject to a police investigation or prosecution, you must inform us. Failure to do so may be treated as misconduct and will be dealt with according to the student disciplinary regulations (PDF).

Social media

Not all content on social media is factually correct. Think carefully and if possible, fact check content before you share anything to avoid spreading fake news. 

If you are using social media as a form of protest, be aware that your posts can be taken out of context by others and if its not set to private, could be picked up by the media. For further support and advice, contact our Social Media team at

If you are approached by the media, contact our Media team at

Cyber security

Be aware that times of global crisis can provide opportunities for scams, such as fake charitable appeals and phishing. Never provide your personal and bank details to an unknown source. Keep up to date with our latest cyber security guidance.

Be aware of radicalisation 

Radicalisation can happen when a person develops extreme views or beliefs that support terrorist groups or activities (UK Government, 2023) and may be more likely during times of global uncertainty, or in response to worldwide events.  

If you are concerned about radicalisation on campus, or worried about your friends or contacts, talk to us via our Wellbeing Service, so we can provide the right support. We can step in to protect the individuals concerned and our wider community.

Useful resources 

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