The proposed draft Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill proposed by the Home Secretary Theresa May carries with it severe implications for communities in the UK.
In particular, this response focuses on Part 5 of the draft legislation, dealing with proposed statutory powers that obligate the prevention of terrorism by those working in public bodies.
As a strategy, PREVENT has been seen as a contentious policy, as it undermines the way that communities behave by placing religious, cultural and political behaviour within risk assessments. By doing so, potential future suspects are created where debate, discussion and openness may find their own remedy.
The full report is an assessment of how the UK government seeks to bring PREVENT within a statutory framework, and the potential impact that would result from such a move. It further seeks to provide guidance to service providers who are required to assess and report on those they understand to be at risk of being on a pathway to terrorism. They can raise these concerns with the government’s public consultation.
The report highlights the following areas of concern as paramount in responding to the draft legislation:
- The draft Bill speaks of preventing those on the pathway to ‘terrorism’ however provides no guidance as to what constitutes this potential pathway.
- The PREVENT strategy is not referenced directly and there is no clarity within the law as to what will constitute a referral based on activity/belief/statements. Such lack of clarity will inevitably result in abuses, as individuals will make subjective assessments as to what constitutes a risk.
- Bodies that take a critical approach towards PREVENT and the built-in subjectivity of its assessments will find their autonomy to make decisions limited by an enforcement power that will be centralised to the Home Secretary.
- Local authorities will be required to police events taking place at publicly funded buildings by making assessments of individuals or groups delivering lectures and whether they may constitute a risk. Such assessments risk limiting freedom of expression within British society as authorities will take cautious approaches to allowing Muslim communities to express themselves openly.
- Bringing PREVENT within the education and health sectors has already resulted in some severe miscarriages of justice, as individuals have had their lives ruined by false assessments of the risks they pose. Forcing through a statutory obligation to report will result in further mistakes as overzealous individuals will come to false conclusions about the risks posed to those in their care.
Recommended responses to the CTS Bill public consultation
Those expected to be the frontline of reporting those under the risk of being on a pathway to ‘terrorism’ have been provided an opportunity to respond to a government public consultation until the end of January 2015.
This consultation serves as an opportunity to highlight how unworkable and fundamentally flawed the Bill is, and the expectations is places on these service providers.
When responding to the consultation, the following points should be considered as part of any submission:
- The terms of reference of how an individual may be on a pathway towards ‘terrorism’ is unclear and so cannot be functionally used.
- The definition of ‘extremism’ in the PREVENT strategy cannot be used as a reference point for determining risk due to its wide terms. The definition provides little clarity in the law and would allow for abuses against those children and families that might be wrongly assessed as part of overzealous reporting.
- The Bill and supporting documents provide no guidance on how religious practice and indeed legitimate difference of opinion within normative practice of religion is to be understood by the service providers.
- Such policies only serve to politically disenfranchise communities, rather than allowing for them to express themselves religiously and politically. Fear of being reported will drive opinions underground and will force communities to become introverted.
- Some parents may become fearful of sending their children to schools or healthcare services, if they feel they may come under unwarranted scrutiny by those who do not understand their beliefs or culture.
- Concerns over the extent to which health and social services will be able to intrude into the lives of families based on reporting by service providers presents itself as the most contentious aspect of this Bill. A lack of clarity in the law and what could result in a family coming under scrutiny raise serious questions about the administration of this risk exercise.
The Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill 2014 presents itself as being the single most intrusive piece of legislation in the lives of communities across the UK. By placing a requirement on public sector services to police those under their duty of care, an alternative system of criminalisation is being established. The public sector must respond to these developments, otherwise they risk potentially alienating from their services many who will become fearful of being misunderstood.
(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)