Monday, 19 January 2015

Counter-terrorism and security bill ~ Prevent Duty

The Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill (previous post) is proceeding apace along its fast track Parliamentary process.  Rushed legislation is rarely considered as thoroughly as it ought to be and is often problematic when it comes to implementation. 

In the area of trying to prevent terrorism, the government has the CONTEST strategy - summarised here.  Para 1.12 of the document states that counter-terrorism strategy is organised around 4 workstreams referred to as Pursue; Prevent; Protect; Prepare.  Prevent seeks to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism.  Prevent is addressed further on this government website.

The Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill
- Part 5 Chapter 1 - effectively places PREVENT on a statutory basis.  Specified authorities will come under an enforceable legal duty to have due regard to the need to prevent people being drawn into terrorism.  The Secretary of State will issue guidance and a draft is available for consultation until noon on 30th January. The Secretary of State will be able to amend the guidance and may also issue directions to the specified authorities. 

The Joint Committee on Human Rights has expressed serious concerns about this - see their report - where the committee's view of the impact on freedom of expression in Universities is expressed.  The committee considers that universities should not be specified authorities.  Furthermore, the committee has called for the guidance to become subject to an affirmative resolution procedure in each House of Parliament.  For more on the possible impact on universities, see here.

Will the Bill turn schools into spying agencies reporting on children considered to be at risk of being drawn into terrorism?  This possibility - denied by the government - is discussed in an article published by The Telegraph on 4th January - Anti-terror plan to spy on toddlers 'is heavy handed'

The Muslim Council has called for a rethink on the Bill.  They condemn terrorism but have a perception that all aspects of Muslim life must undergo a "Prevent Compliance" test to prove loyalty to the country.  They wish to see evidence based proposals that do not target any one community and which also address threats from far right Islamophobic groups across Europe.

The human rights organisation Liberty sees the Bill as Unsafe and Unfair.

Prevent duty guidance - Consultation (pdf 38 pages)

What, it may be asked, is extremism?  The government has defined extremism in the Prevent strategy as: "vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs."  They also include in the definition calls for the death of members of the armed forces.  It remains to be seen just how many vociferous viewpoints might end up being considered to be extremist.   This is considered in an article published by LSE Human Rights. which concludes:

" ....  our government has made public statements communicating its commitment to freedom of expression and its importance for counter-terrorism. If this really is its position, then it seems the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill requires immediate amendment."   

Whilst abandonment of Part 5 Chapter 1 of the Bill is unlikely, it would not affect CONTEST or PREVENT as they currently operate but would allow time for proper and careful consideration of  whether this type of legislation should proceed and, if so, precisely how.  Full and thorough consultation ought to take place on any proposals.  Perhaps that is too much to ask with the general election looming up in May.

Should the reader remain unconvinced of the dangers inherent in this Bill, then please read this article by the Institute of Race Relations. - Farewell Magna Carta: The Counter-terrorism and Security Bill

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