Earlier this year, the Government fulfilled one of its General Election Manifesto commitments by appointing Sara Khan as the first chair of a new Commission for Countering Extremism. The Commission’s task is not an enviable one, since if not exactly an admission of failure, its establishment represents at least a significant pause for thought. Its job will be to support society in countering extremism and to advise the Government on new policies and powers. We have some idea of what it aspires to achieve, and how it will work, but as yet no concrete proposals have emerged.
The creation of the Commission is the latest stage in a fairly rapid process of policy development. In its current guise, the idea of countering extremism first emerged in the 2011 version of Prevent, the counter-terrorism strategy. Extremism was defined there 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’. It was identified as a problem because, it was claimed, extremist ideologies can lead to terrorism – the use or threat of serious violence or other damaging attacks on the public to advance a political, religious, racial or ideological cause. However, at that point the only thing the Government suggested should be done about it was ‘challenge’ – in other words the use of informal social and political pressure to reinforce liberal values in the face of illiberal ones.
In October 2015 – after the ending of the Conservative/Liberal Democrat Coalition – the Government’s counter-terrorism policy took another turn. A new counter-extremism strategy identified extremism as a harm in its own right, requiring new legal responses and new Government powers. Ever since, the Government has been trying to work out what these should be. (more…)
The Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 (CTSA) has aroused great controversy by imposing a legal duty upon schools, universities, the NHS and other institutions to ‘have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism’ (the ‘Prevent duty’). However, in an article published in the current issue of the academic journal Public Law, ‘Counter-Terrorist Law in British Universities: A Review of the “Prevent” Debate’, we argue that the campaign against the Act and the duty in higher education rests largely upon myths, six of which are particularly prevalent. In this blog, we provide a summary of those myths (you can also watch a short video outlining the main arguments). (more…)
On 3rd August 2017 it was announced that, a week before, the High Court had rejected a claim, brought in judicial review proceedings by Dr Salman Butt, that the inclusion of his name in an official press release about tackling extremism in universities and colleges was unlawful and in breach of his human rights (Salman Butt v Secretary of State for the Home Department  EWHC 1930 (Admin)). Relying on information provided by the Home Office Extremism Analysis Unit (EAU), which had opposed the publication of any names, the press release referred to 70 events on university premises in 2014 featuring ‘hate speakers’. However, as the result of an ‘oversight’, six people including Dr Butt, were also identified as ‘expressing views contrary to British values’ on campus. The judgment in this case is the first significant judicial contribution to the debate about the ‘Prevent duty’ created by s.26 of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 (CTSA) which requires schools, universities, the NHS and other institutions to ‘have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism’. (more…)
On July 13, 2016 Nottinghamshire police became the first force in the UK to recognise misogyny as a hate crime. Hate crime is defined as ‘any criminal offence which is perceived, by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by hostility or prejudice based on a personal characteristic’. In practical terms, this means that in Nottinghamshire police can record reported incidents such as wolf whistling, verbal abuse, taking photographs without consent, and using mobile phones to send unwanted messages with an additional ‘flag’ or qualifier on their incident log as hate crime. It appears that the move is largely symbolic, as gender animus is not a relevant aggravating factor for the purposes of sentencing under relevant UK ‘hate crime’ legislation, and does not create any new criminal offences. However, the initiative has been supported by the force working in partnership with the Nottingham Women’s Centre and has involved the specialised training of officers to better identify and respond to the public harassment of women by men.
The announcement last week of the initiative was met with the predictable level of teeth gnashing and cries of ‘political correctness gone mad’ characteristic of any policy announcement addressed to countering gender inequality. While the move may be largely bureaucratic, it does present an opportunity to look again at the spectre of criminalisation in our time and consider a related question: What is the role of the criminal law in regulating gender (in)equality, and what should it be? (more…)
How – consistent with democracy, human rights, the rule of law, and the preservation of cosmopolitan community cohesion and public confidence in law and its enforcement – should the UK respond to the threat posed by terrorism and, in particular, how should it seek to prevent people, especially vulnerable young people, from being enticed into it? These questions have arisen in a particularly acute form as a result of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 which, amongst other things, imposes a legal duty upon schools, universities, charities, the NHS etc – but not directly upon their staff individually – to ‘have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism.’ This may include banning some activities, regulating others, and/or taking appropriate steps to identify those who may be at risk and to refer them to appropriate welfare agencies.
The policy of the University and College Union (UCU) – which represents over 110,000 academic and other staff in higher and further education in the UK – is to boycott the requirements of the Act and the wider ‘Prevent strategy’ of which it is a part, on the grounds that they seriously threaten academic freedom, stifle campus activism, require staff to engage in racial profiling, legitimize Islamophobia, and jeopardize safe and supportive learning environments. Hence the slogans ‘Educators Not Informants!’, ‘Boycott Prevent!’, ‘Prevent Prevent!’ and ‘I Dissent from Prevent!’ which circulate in and around the campaign. This blog summarises work in progress – part of a much larger project concerning terrorism, counterterrorism and human rights in the post-9/11 UK – which argues that the UCU boycott is not only illegal, illegitimate and deeply flawed, but also potentially dangerous and irresponsible.