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01 September 2020

Oxford Union agrees to grapple with equality, access and dignity issues in settlement of Azamati case

4 mins

Today the famous Oxford Union Society made a public, unreserved apology to Ebenezer Azamati, a blind and Black student who was forced to leave its debating chamber last October by security staff, and who was then subjected to disciplinary action for alleged violent misconduct. The disciplinary findings were quashed in an internal appeal, but meanwhile had been released to and reported by a student newspaper contrary to Union rules.  

In today’s statement, the Union said:

“We also accept that the allegations of dishonesty and violence made against Mr Azamati by the Union have caused acute distress to Mr Azamati and serious harm to his reputation. We accept that those allegations are wholly unfounded and untrue, and we apologise for making the statements that contained them. What happened to Mr Azamati was fundamentally wrong. We apologise to him unreservedly and have made a compensatory payment to him in recognition of this. We must ensure that we become an institution in which such an incident can never recur.”

The Union went on to release details of a creative and wide-ranging settlement which included equality and anti-discrimination training for staff and officers and the commissioning of a comprehensive review of equality, access and dignity issues at the Union which will make evidence-based recommendations in a published report. The Union also committed to publish the report and consult publicly on its recommendations before deciding on their implementation. A compensatory payment will be made to Mr Azamati, though the amount is confidential.

Mr Azamati is was represented by Farhana Patel, Paradise Bidkalameh and John Halford of Bindmans LLP along with Ruth Brander of Doughty Street Chambers and Ben Silverstone of Matrix Chambers. He was backed throughout the 10-month legal case by his college, St John’s. He said today:

“I became a member of the Oxford Union because of its reputation as a champion of free speech and as one of the most famous debating societies in the world where ideas can be freely exchanged and rigorously tested. It was therefore profoundly shocking to be forced to leave with hundreds of people looking on, and then to be wrongly accused of violence in disciplinary proceedings which were extensively publicised. I have very little other than my good name and for weeks I felt it was being taken from me.

In the nine months since then, it is clear the Union has changed for the better. I acknowledge with profound gratitude the steps now being taken to address my concerns and help make the Union a welcoming place for all members irrespective of their background. I particularly welcome the commitments to an independent review of equality, access and dignity issues and equalities training. I am also pleased that I’ve been cleared of all wrongdoing and offered a proper apology, which I accept.

This outcome could not have been achieved without St John’s College, Oxford and Helen Mountfield, Principal of Mansfield College, who have unhesitatingly backed me since the beginning of the legal dispute. For me, this has shown the determination of other institutions at Oxford to take a progressive stand when necessary. I also want to thank my legal advisors John Halford, Farhana Patel and Paradise Bidkalameh of Bindmans LLP, Ruth Brander of Doughty Street Chambers and Ben Silverstone of Matrix Chambers.”

Farhana Patel said today:

“We welcome the Oxford Union’s unreserved apology to our client, Mr Azamati, and the constructive commitment to commission a comprehensive and independent review of equality, access and dignity issues at the Union. The independent review will make evidence-based recommendations in a report, which the Union will show to the public and invite anyone with an interest to comment. This will take some time, but in the meantime it has committed to equality and anti-discrimination training for staff and officers. What happened to Mr Azamati was very wrong, but it has catalyzed a process of self-examination and willingness to be scrutinized on matters of race, gender and disability which is very promising. Provided the Union follows through, there should be institutional changes of real benefit to staff, present and future members.”

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