Clare College Cambridge

Guidelines for Student Publications

Guidelines for Editors of and Contributors to Student Publications at Clare

In light of the serious nature of the responsibilities set out below, and in order to guard students against inadvertent criminal offence and avoid damage to the public reputation of someone named in a student publication, the College has seen fit to impose the following regulation:

The online posting of student publications associated with the College, on SRCF, requires the permission of the Dean of Students.  Failure to observe this regulation may result in a substantial damage charge or other disciplinary action. 


When a student requests permission:

1)      S/he (or those members directly involved) will be given a document that briefly states crucial points in regard to the legal and ethical issues involved in posting potentially harmful or offensive material, in the short and long-term, and be directed to the 'Guidelines' as above.

2)      S/he will have to sign a declaration stating that s/he accepts responsibility for the posting.

3)      S/he will have to accept responsibility for maintaining the site and, when s/he ceases to be involved in the society or organization, to entrust the running to someone else (who will then have to provide his/her signature) or to remove the site from SRCF.  

  1. Contractual Responsibility

Every student signs the Matriculation Form which is a legal contract binding him or her to observe College regulations and to do nothing that is harmful to the work or reputation of the College.

All students agree on entering the College to “accept the responsibility of membership of the College and University community” and to “abide by the statutes, rules and regulations of these institutions and to do nothing that is harmful to the work or reputation of either of them”.

These are contractually binding obligations which must be observed by an editor or contributor as by all students.

In particular, an editor/contributor is bound to ensure that published material is not of a kind that is offensive, obscene or defamatory so as to be likely to harm the reputation of the College or the University in the eyes of right-thinking members of the public (the law’s ‘reasonable person’) or likely to impair good working relationships among members of either institution. 

2.    Freedom of Expression

Freedom of speech or expression is the right of every student, but this right is not unqualified and is subject to restrictions imposed by law.

English common law, the European Convention on Human Rights and English judges alike uphold a right to freedom of expression, and the authorities of a College in the University have a particular duty to “take such steps as are reasonably practicable to ensure that freedom of speech within the law is secured for members, students and employees” of the College: Education (No.2) Act 1986, section 43.

Freedom of expression as recognised in English law can, however, be limited so far as necessary inter alia for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals of for the protection of the reputation or rights of others.  An editor or contributor must, therefore, be aware of limitations of these kinds for which provision is made in English law.  Particular legal restrictions of freedom of expression that are relevant in this context are indicated in broad outline below. 

3.    Defamation

If a publication includes material that is defamatory of an individual the author and the editor are liable to be sued for damages by the person defamed. 

The tort or civil wrong of defamation or libel is committed by the author or publisher of written material which would be likely to lead an ordinary, reasonable reader to think less well of a person or to shun, mistrust or despise a person or which would be likely to expose a person to hatred, contempt or ridicule.  The victim of a defamatory publication may sue a person responsible for the publication for damages.  

Statements made about a group of persons may (according to the context) be found to be defamatory of each member of the group, but a generalised allegation directed against a large group (‘all lawyers are corrupt’) would not be likely to be taken as defamatory of every one of its members. 

It is a defence to an action for defamation that the published statement was true (the defence of ‘justification’).  A defendant who relies on the defence of justification is required, however, to prove the truth of the statement. 

There is also a defence of ‘privilege based on responsible journalism’ if readers had a legitimate interest in being informed of the matter published and in addition the publisher acted responsibly (in a disinterested, fair and even-handed way).  

4.    Infringement of Privacy (Misuse of Private Information)

Publication of information about a person that violates his or her right to private life may give rise to a claim for damages.  

English law has very recently developed a law of privacy, giving a remedy in damages to a person whose right to private life is infringed by the publication of information about him or her which the publisher knew, or should have known, was to be regarded as private or confidential (for instance, information that a person was receiving medical or psychiatric treatment or counselling, or had attempted suicide, or was an alcoholic, or information about a person’s sexual orientation or sexual life).  Such a breach of privacy may only exceptionally be excused when the publication can be justified as being in the public interest.  

5.    Harassment 

It is a wrong, for which damages may be claimed, to pursue a campaign of harassment against a person. 

By virtue of section 1 (1) of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 it is a tort or civil wrong, actionable for damages, for the editor of a publication to run a campaign of harassment (such as to cause alarm or distress) against an individual.  This tort is committed only by a ‘course of conduct’, the harassment taking place on more than one occasion.  

Such a course of conduct may also constitute a criminal offence under section 2 of the Act.  See also 6 below.

6.    Threats, Abuse, Insults

A criminal offence may be committed by an author or publisher of written material which threatens, abuses or insults any person so as to cause that person harassment, alarm or distress.

A criminal offence may be committed by the publisher of words or a “visible representation” (such as a cartoon or caricature) which are “threatening, abusive or insulting” to any person and which are intended or likely to cause that person “harassment, alarm or distress”.  (See the Public Order Act 1986, sections 4A and 5.) 

The offence is more serious (attracting more severe criminal penalties) if it is “racially or religiously aggravated”: that is, if the offence is motivated by, or if in the circumstances it demonstrates, hostility towards members of a racial or religious group.  (See the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, sections 28, 31 (1) (b) and (c).) 

7.    Stirring up Racial or Religious Hatred

A criminal offence may be committed by an author or publisher of written material which stirs up racial or religious hatred.

Section 19 of the Public Order Act 1986 makes it a criminal offence to publish or distribute written material (including any visible representation) which is “threatening, abusive or insulting” if the publisher or distributor intends in so doing to “stir up racial hatred” or if racial hatred is likely to be stirred up as a result.  “Racial hatred” means hatred against a group of persons defined by reference to colour, race, nationality, or ethnic or national origins.

The Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006 (in April 2007 not yet brought into force) creates new offences of stirring up hatred against people on religious grounds.  “Religious hatred” is defined in the Act to cover hatred against a group of persons defined by their religious belief or lack of religious belief, but “religion” and “religious belief” are not defined, it being left to the courts to determine their meaning.  An offence will be committed by the publication or distribution of written material which is “threatening” and is intended to stir up religious hatred.  The Act provides that it is not to be given effect in a way which restricts discussion, criticism or expressions of antipathy, dislike, ridicule, insult or abuse of particular religious or belief systems or lack of religion.

8.    Blasphemy and Obscenity

Publication of pornography or material which is blasphemous of the Christian religion may constitute a criminal offence.

It is not proposed to describe the offences relating to blasphemy and obscene publications: the law is complex and prosecutions are rare.  An editor should, however, be aware that publication of ‘hard-core’ pornography or scurrilous attacks on the Christian religion may result in criminal prosecution.

9.    Terrorism

Serious offences are committed by the publication of material which incites or encourages persons to commit acts of terrorism or which glorifies such acts (e.g. praising or celebrating the commission of such acts).