Jessica Shepherd, Education Correspondent
Lawyers are seeking to overturn a high court injunction that prevents students at one of the country's biggest universities from staging occupation-style protests.
Birmingham University obtained the injunction after students occupied an abandoned university building and carried out a series of protests in protest at rising fees in November.
The injunction – thought to be the first of its kind – forbids students from all occupation-style protests on the university's 250-acre campus for a year. Any student found to be breaching the injunction could be imprisoned or fined.
Public Interest Lawyers, who are acting on behalf of Birmingham's students, have written to the university's vice-chancellor, Professor David Eastwood, to demand the injunction is immediately abandoned.
Tessa Gregory, a solicitor at the firm, said the injunction "criminalised legitimate protest" and was "completely at odds with the university's duty to respect and protect students' right to freedom of expression and association".
The university's approach has been "needlessly aggressive", "draconian" and serves to intimidate students, Gregory said.
"Universities should be at the forefront of ensuring the right to protest is protected, not responsible for the criminalisation of its students who wish to raise serious concerns of public importance," she said.
The firm fears that the terms of the order, granted by Judge David Grant on 25 November, are broad enough to potentially criminalise any protest in which participants remain in any location for any period of time.
The terms of the injunction say: "The defendants shall not, without the prior written consent of the claimant, [Birmingham University] enter or remain upon land comprising the claimant's campus and buildings at the University of Birmingham … for the purpose of any occupational protest action."
Sheffield University dropped its high court order banning protests last month after its students' union contested the claim.