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Guide to impeachments at the Oxford Union

Cherwell News explains the impeachment procedure at the Oxford Union, after motions were brought against the President and Librarian.

Motions of impeachment have been brought against the President and Librarian of the Oxford Union by a former Treasurer. While the motions have failed, with neither receiving the required 150 signatures, the impeachment procedures – especially in a remote term – can be unclear.

In a letter, the Returning Officer stated:

“Motions of impeachment against the President and Librarian were affixed to the noticeboard at 00:02 on Sunday 7th February. Neither motion gained the required 150 signatures by the deadline at 00:02 today, Tuesday 9th February, and so are not considered moved under Rule 43.”

“No verification process for signatures was required as neither online form for impeachment signatures received 150 responses.”

The impeachment process is set out in the Rules, Standing Orders, and Special Schedules of the Oxford Union Society.

Ordinarily, once motions have been submitted to the Returning Officer, they are displayed on the Union noticeboard. The date and time at which the articles had been posted is also displayed, since 150 verified signatures need to be collected for the motion to proceed to a debate.

Due to the pandemic, the motions are available to sign as Google forms. After being posted at 0:02 on the morning of February 7th, there is a 48 hour window in which members can sign. A spokesperson from the Union told Cherwell: “the Union does not publicise motions and it is up to the member who submitted it to collect signatures”.

If an impeachment motion receives the required 150 signatures, members will be able to vote on the motion four days later. This period exists to allow “free and open debate to occur” about whether the officers in question should be impeached and removed from office.

Impeachment motions require a supermajority of two thirds to be passed. The number of votes to impeach the officer must be higher that 150.

A candidate who has been impeached “shall be considered to have resigned from their office”. Impeached officers may run for office in the Union in the future. However, the Returning Officer is required to make the fact that the candidate has been impeached to members of the Union, describing the candidate as “Ex-Officer (impeached)”.

There are special cases under which impeachment proceedings would be suspended, such as if the officer resigns. This happened in 2019 when former Union President Brendan McGrath resigned his post after Ebenezer Azamati, a blind postgraduate student, was ejected from the debate chamber and banned from the Union for two terms. The events drew widespread scrutiny and condemnation from the international media and press, and prompted an impeachment motion to be brought against Mr McGrath.

In this specific instance, the articles accused Union President James Price and Librarian Chengkai Xie of attending a party which is alleged to have taken place in the Union in December. The Union’s solicitor has previously said that “to suggest that an illegal party was hosted would be untrue and defamatory. It is also untrue to say the police were called.”

Mr Xie is also accused of failing to interview all candidates for the Union’s Appointed Committee, which the former Treasurer claims contributed to “spirit of nepotism and exclusivity that is remiss of a society that serves the members rather than those in power”. Mr Price is accused of allowing this to take place by delegating this process to Mr Xie.

The motions also highlight that both officers were involved in putting together a term card which has drawn criticism because of comments made by invited speakers which have caused controversy. The Oxford SU Disabilities and LGBTQ+ Campaigns both criticised the invitation of the Canadian neuroscientist Deborah Soh, who they accused of transphobia and denying “autistic trans people – and autistic people as a whole – agency over their lives.”

Mr Price, Mr Xie and the Union have been approached for comment.

Image credit to US Department of State / Wikimedia Commons

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