Nottingham City Council spent more than £10,000 in legal fees and paid out £500 in compensation after it unlawfully cancelled a talk by activist Julie Bindel at one of its libraries. Ms Bindel, a feminist campaigner and author, was informed by the Labour-run council her talk at Aspley Library was cancelled due to her views on transgender rights one day before it was due to take place on June 25.
Represented by Didlaw, London-based employment lawyers, she then took legal action against the authority, having raised just under £40,000 through a Crowdjustice campaign. The campaign sought to raise money from her followers to pay for her legal team, which drafted a letter to the council saying she would be taking legal action under both the Equality Act 2010 and the Human Rights Act 1998.
After three months of pre-action correspondence the parties reached agreement on mutually acceptable terms, including an apology. In October, the city council apologised to Ms Bindel and admitted it had acted “unlawfully” in cancelling her talk, which had been organised by Nottingham Women for Change, which describes itself as a “women only activism, education and empowerment” group.
The Local Democracy Reporting Service spoke to Ms Bindel and her lawyers, and submitted a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to the council. It can be revealed the council spent £10,680 on legal fees and provided a £569.99 ‘settlement’.
The council says the £569.99 sum was paid to Ms Bindel, the organisers and ticket holders “in respect to their reasonable losses”. Ms Bindel says she had not asked for compensation and they were given “out of pocket expenses incurred.”
The council says it is now “taking steps to ensure that such a decision is not taken in this way again”. Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, Ms Bindel said: “I’m a socialist so I would never take money from a cash-strapped council.
“I wanted to teach them a lesson. I wanted them to know they were wrong. I wanted the ticket money to be put back to the women who had paid out. It was £5 per ticket and for those women, £5 is a lot.
“I am a lefty, lesbian feminist and they said I was not a suitable speaker. I came out as a lesbian in the ’70s in north-east London and was subject to horrendous bigotry. I did not want to take a penny from a struggling Labour council, we could have screwed them into the ground, but they will have spent a lot of money on legal defence.”
According to the council, its library services department had been made aware of the “speaker’s views on transgender rights” when it chose to cancel the talk. Ms Bindel herself said it had been cancelled over the “alleged transphobia”, but argued she had intended to speak about violence against women and those who are socially disenfranchised.
Some of her views on gender have been a cause for controversy, with a Guardian column from 2004, titled ‘Gender Benders, beware’, receiving hundreds of complaint letters. The title of this column and its contents, along with her views on transgender rights, have been heavily criticised by some advocacy groups.
Elizabeth McGlone, partner and solicitor at Didlaw, which represented Ms Bindel, said: “It is the right outcome. I think the city council took the wrong approach de-platforming Julie Bindel.
“The outcome was proportionate and paves the way for other councils being inclusive across the board.” In a statement released in October Nottingham City Council said: “On 24 June 2022, Nottingham City Council cancelled a booking by Nottingham Women for Change to use a space at Aspley Library for a talk by the author and journalist Julie Bindel.
“Nottingham City Council later communicated its decision in a statement published on 25 June 2022. Nottingham City Council now accepts that its decision to cancel the event was procedurally unlawful.
“Nottingham City Council apologises to Ms Bindel and Nottingham Women for Change for cancelling the event in this way and for the inconvenience caused as a result of this decision. It has agreed to make payment to Julie Bindel, Nottingham Women for Change and to ticket holders in respect of their reasonable losses incurred as a result of the cancellation of the event.
“Nottingham City Council has agreed that, if Nottingham Women for Change seeks to make a booking at any Nottingham City Council venue by way of a fully completed booking form, the Council will make a fresh decision in response to such request upon a lawful basis.” Ms Bindel says she will be returning to the city “in the new year” and added: “They should have caved in when we first wrote to them and issued the same statement they should have given us four months earlier.”
Responding to the FOI, a Nottingham City Council spokesman said: “Having accepted that our decision to cancel the event Julie Bindel was due to speak at was procedurally unlawful, we apologised to her and Nottingham Women for Change for the inconvenience caused and agreed to make payment to them and ticket holders to address reasonable losses they incurred. We are taking steps to ensure that such a decision is not taken in this way again.”