Terror Legislation Watchdog recommends review of impact of “large-scale investigations” – time to reconsider PREVENT?
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Thursday October 18 2018
The Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation (IRTL) has recommended that the police should review the impact of conducting large-scale investigation on communities.
The recommendation comes as part of Max Hill QC’s, terror legislation watchdog since 1st March 2017, final report as part his tenure as the IRTL.
The report was released yesterday, 10th October 2018, entitled: “The Terrorism Acts in 2017: Report of the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation on the Operation of the Terrorism Acts 2000 and 2006, the Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Act 2011, and the Terrorist Asset Freezing etc. Act 2010”.
Speaking on Operation MANTELINE, the police investigation following the Manchester Arena attack, Hill highlights that whilst the police should be “commended for the thoroughness and rigour” there was “collateral damage”.
A woman, 35, who is only referred to as Subject G in the report, was a neighbour to an address considered to be of interest as part of the investigation and was inappropriately arrested. This was acknowledged by the police and the lady was eventually given compensation because of the mistake.
This was accepted as a “learning outcome”.
However, Hill adds that what is still not being considered is the impact on communities of large-scale investigations.
He states: “the Police should consider and reflect upon the community impact of a large-scale investigation, centring as it did on particular areas of Manchester with a large Muslim population”.
He added: “Good community policing, as well as good counter-terrorism policing, demands that real efforts are made to work within and with local communities, where many blameless residents will have been inconvenienced if not traumatised by the regular appearance of Police search and arrest teams on their street or in their home”.
The impact of UK Terror Legislation and investigations on particular communities, especially Muslim communities, has been previously considered by various organisations and individuals who have noted that it is significant. It has also been widely accepted that the impact is heightened due to the sensitisation of the communities to accusations of being uniquely “at risk of radicalisation” and prejudice levied by far-right groups and the socio-political structure.
It is, therefore, commendable that Max Hill QC has proposed the aforementioned recommendation and highlighted the collateral damage that has occurred as a result of Operation MANTELINE and noted that it should be a “learning outcome” for the police.
However, it is of interest then that the PREVENT strategy continues to lack oversight by a role similar to the IRTL even though it is the most significant form of mass investigation that is being carried out by the UK’s counter-terrorism apparatus, effectively having transformed all public body officials into counter-terrorism officers in 2015, and even though it has been repeatedly criticised for its disproportionate focus on the Muslim community and the significant number of false-positive alerts, or “collateral damage”, that arises from it.
Indeed, figures released in March 2018 by the Home Office that illustrate the number of “individuals referred to and supported through the Prevent programme” between April 2016 and March 2017, show that of the 6,093 referrals made to PREVENT, only approximately 5.5% (332) cases were advanced to PREVENT’s sister initiative CHANNEL. Further, 4,947 cases, or 81.2%, were not even considered for discussion to progression to CHANNEL; with 2,199 cases, or 36.1%, not even being referred to other services.
Therefore, the significant majority of all referrals made to PREVENT are false positives, or “collateral damage”.
It should also be noted that the vast majority of referrals made to PREVENT, 61%, are in relation to concerns of “Islamist extremism”.
Taking into account the figures, it is of question then why the Government has not established a role to review the effectiveness of PREVENT as a tool and not considered the impact the strategy is having on the Muslim community considering the significant number of false-positives.
The referrals reinforce the inaccurate and inappropriate image of Muslim communities being uniquely “at risk of radicalisation”.
This has been noted by various sources to have resulted in the stifling of legitimate debate, marginalisation of groups and reinforcement of stereotypical ideas of groups. Including by, three special rapporteurs to the UN, the NEU (formerly known as the NUT), the NUS, the former Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, Rights Watch UK, the Open Society Justice Initiative, the Joint Committee for Human Rights, and more than 140 academics, politicians and experts in one instance alone.
Considering the statutory duty placed on public sector bodies by PREVENT, the Government should also reflect on how this policy reflects its obligations under the Public-Sector Equality duty that states it must have regard to “Foster good relations between people who share a protected characteristic and those who do not”. It is difficult to see how PREVENT does this considering its disproportionate impact on Muslim communities.
It is further discouraging that the Counter-Terror and Border Security Bill that is being currently considered by Parliament inappropriately expands PREVENT further into the public sphere and gives border authorities heavy-handed powers.
Firstly, the bill supports a seemingly concerted governmental drive to criminalise non-violent forms of expression and critical information seeking by increasing the legislation around the publishing, downloading or viewing of certain material. As well as increasing the remoteness of the person that can be prosecuted to the material, it also fails to take account of the person’s intention and the actual impacts of their action.
Secondly, the bill continues the inappropriate expansion of PREVENT into areas of civil society, shifting the responsibility for referring suspected ‘extremists’ away from the police and onto local authorities. As well as representing a further intrusion of PREVENT into the public sector and civil spheres, individuals required to make referrals are inadequately trained for such a task.
Finally, the introduction of Schedule 3 gives authorities the powers to stop, question and detain individuals who are or perceived as having been engaged in ‘hostile activity’ at borders. Not only is this a problematically broad term in scope, but it also can be actionable without any requirement for reasonable suspicion.
The work of Max Hill QC, and the office of the IRTL, is commendable holding to account the use of terrorism legislation and reminding everyone the balance between national security and civic freedom. Hill’s recommendation of considering the impact of terrorism-related large-scale investigation is important in determining the consequences such actions have on social consciousness and attitude. However, it is imperative that the PREVENT strategy also comes under the remit of an office similar in function to that of the IRTL and impact of the strategy on communities, particularly the Muslim community, be thoroughly investigated.