STATEMENT
An upcoming review of the Prevent counter-extremism programme is at risk of becoming a “whitewash”
13 Aug 2019
BY INDEX ON CENSORSHIP

A coalition of 10 human rights and community groups, including Index on Censorship, have warned that an upcoming review of the Prevent counter-extremism programme is at risk of becoming a “whitewash”.  The groups are urging the government to ensure that the review of Prevent is comprehensive and truly independent.

Dear Rt. Hon Brandon Lewis,

We write as a diverse coalition of human rights organisations and community groups concerned by the impact of the Government’s flagship counter-extremism strategy, Prevent, on fundamental rights, community cohesion and the delivery of public services.

We welcome the Government’s commitment to establishing an independent review of Prevent under the auspices of the Counter Terror and Border Security Act 2019. [1] As the deadline for the announcement of arrangements for the Review approaches, we are writing to request that you take appropriate steps to ensure that it is genuinely independent of Government and that its Terms of Reference are sufficiently broad, to ensure the integrity, rigour and credibility of this important process.

Independence and transparency

An incredibly broad range of people and organisations have raised concerns about the impact of the Prevent strategy, including politicians of all parties, health and education workers, members of the security establishment, and people from communities disproportionately affected by counter-terror policy. [2] Given this breadth and depth of concern, it is vital that the Review is meaningfully independent of Government.

We are therefore disappointed that the Reviewer’s appointment appears to be taking place behind closed doors. The position has not been advertised, nor have the selection criteria been published, despite your predecessor stating that the Reviewer’s appointment would comply with the Code on Public Appointments. [3] This is purportedly due to time constraints, [4] yet we note that there was sufficient time to publicly advertise the role of Head of the Prevent Review Team. [5]

None of the undersigned organisations have been consulted on the appointment. However, we understand that select groups have been privately consulted.

In combination, these omissions do not inspire confidence that the Government is seeking to appoint a Reviewer with the expertise and independence required to thoroughly scrutinise the logic, remit and impact of Prevent.

We urge you to follow the principles of the public appointments process as set in the Code on Public Appointments, including by publicly advertising the position and providing information about the selection criteria. Further, it is critical that the Reviewer’s staff are not exclusively civil servants. There must be space within the structure of the Review and associated staff for independent advisers with expertise in human rights and who represent affected communities.

Terms of Reference

We understand that the Government has drafted the Terms of Reference for the Review, which will be published when the Reviewer is announced. [6] Again, we regret that the Government failed to consult widely on this crucial aspect of the Review.

It is imperative that the Terms of Reference afford the Reviewer scope to examine the Strategy’s underlying assumptions and evidence base, its human rights implications, and, ultimately, whether it is fit for purpose.

We wholeheartedly support the Government’s aim to keep the public and society safe from serious violence. In our view, only evidence-based policy – with robustly tested logic, carefully assessed consequences and human rights at its heart – can fulfil that important aim. It is vital that Prevent is tested against these standards.

We hope that the Government shares our view that this process is an opportunity for root-and-branch, impartial assessment of the Prevent Strategy. Ensuring that it is sufficiently broad and independent to achieve this aim can only be to the benefit of the public servants required to implement Prevent, the people that it claims to protect, and, in the long-term, the flourishing of our communities and society.

 

Yours sincerely,

 

Martha Spurrier, Director, Liberty

Dr Omar Khan, Director, Runnymede Trust

Joy Hyvarinen, Head of Advocacy, Index on Censorship

Yasmine Ahmed, Executive Director, Rights Watch (UK)

Harun Khan, Secretary General, Muslim Council of Britain

Raheel Mohammed, Director, Maslaha

Amrit Singh, Director (Accountability, Liberty & Transparency), Open Society Justice Initiative

Jen Persson, Director, defenddigitalme

Sophie Neuburg, Executive Director, Medact

Omar Begg, Senior Policy Analyst, MEND

Asim Qureshi, Research Director, CAGE

 

[1] 1 Section 20(8), Counter Terror and Border Security Act 2019

[2] As cited in Rights Watch (UK) and Liberty Briefing on an Independent Review of Prevent, March 2017, paras 4-7, available at https://www.libertyhumanrights.org.uk/sites/default/files/Rights%20Watch%20UK%20and%20Liberty%20briefing%20-%20an%20independent%20review%20of%20Prevent.pdf

[3] Counter-terrorism: Written question, HL16344, available at https://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Lords/2019-06-13/HL16344/

[4] Counter-terrorism: Written question, 277293, available at https://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2019-07-15/277293/

[5] https://uk.linkedin.com/jobs/view/head-of-prevent-independent-review-team-at-uk-home-office-1260037822

[6] Counter-terrorism: Written question, 277293, available at https://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2019-07-15/277293/ 

 

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