Crosspost By: Asim Qureshi
With the government opening the draft Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill 2014 up to public consultation, CAGE has released an advisory document that attempts to educate public bodies on the problems inherent within the draft legislation. Key to the draft Bill is the ability for the government to use multiple public bodies to make decisions about the lives of everyday people, based on spurious grounds. Of key concern is where Prevent officials cannot gain consent of parents, they will have the ability to use health and social services to potentially remove children from their homes in order to implement their strategies of ‘deradicalisation’.
On 26 November 2014, The Home Secretary Theresa May introduced the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill (CTS Bill) to Parliament highlighting some revised and new counter-terrorism powers that would be placed on a statutory basis. Key among the various sections and sub-sections is the Part 5 emphasis on providing support for those at, “risk of being drawn into terrorism”. The Bill provides a statutory obligation for public bodies to actively prevent individuals from being drawn towards terrorism in the UK.
The Bill, however, is purposely vague. It provides no guidance within the Bill itself as to the specific instruments that will be used to prevent this terrorism, but rather simply instructs public bodies that guidance will be issued by the Home Secretary to comply with the obligations the statute will create.
In order to understand the Bill within its intended framework, one must turn to the Explanatory Notes that accompany the draft Bill, as the documents elucidates on the intention of the Home Secretary and provides further information about the way in which the statute will potentially engage with communities.
Unlike the CTS Bill, the Explanatory Notes specifically highlight that the intended framework for preventing individuals from being drawn into terrorism are the twin pre-existing policies of Prevent and Channel. The Home Secretary specifically mentions that, “The purpose of our Prevent programme is to stop people from becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism”, whereas Channel is a, “…multi-agency programme which provides tailored support to people who have been identified as being drawn into terrorism.”
It is strange then, that although the intended delivery mechanism are the established tools of Prevent and Channel, no mention is made of them within the Bill itself, only that the Home Secretary will provide guidance to bodies on how to manage individuals drawn towards this crime.
Further, there is a shift in language between the policies put forward by Prevent, and the language used in the CTS Bill. While Prevent and Channel speak of the risks of ‘radicalisation’ and ‘extremism’ – these two words do not feature at all within the draft Bill. Considering the government’s emphasis on ‘extremism’ the launch of its revised Prevent strategy, the terms’ lack of inclusion within the potential statute seems stark. What is clear, is that the mechanism that is already being adopted by Channel, has not been included within the draft Bill. Channel is described by the UK government as,
“a key element of the Prevent strategy. It is a multi-agency approach to protect people at risk from radicalisation. Channel uses existing collaboration between local authorities, statutory partners (such as the education and health sectors, social services, children’s and youth services and offender management services), the police and the local community…”
In his book, The Muslims are Coming, Arun Kundnani explains that despite what Channel presents as being, the way it manifests its policies on the ground have a very different impact. According to him, Channel,
“…sought to profile young people who were not suspected of involvement in criminal activity but nevertheless were regarded as drifting towards extremism. Through an extensive system of surveillance involving, among others, police officers, teachers, and youth and health workers, would-be radicals were identified and given counselling, mentoring, and religious instruction in an attempt to reverse the radicalisation process. In some cases individuals were rehoused in new neighbourhoods to disconnect them from local influences and considered harmful.”
It is this distinction in the language that is key to the draft Bill’s intentions. The Home Secretary has refused to include the definition of ‘extremism’ as laid out in the Prevent strategy, within the Bill. Yet, it is the Prevent strategy that will be relied on to implement the powers that are being provided on a statutory basis. Prevent describes ‘extremism’ as being,
“…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. We also include in our definition of extremism calls for the death of members of our armed forces, whether in this country or overseas”.
Thus, when Chapter 2 of the CTS Bill speaks of the support for people being drawn into terrorism, what are the boundaries that would require an individual to be reported? What are the criteria for assessing that an individual is being, “drawn into terrorism”, as if that is the definition of ‘extremism’, then the terms are so vague as to be almost meaningless.
In the Explanatory Notes to the CTS Bill, it is clarified that, “referrals to these panels may only be made by police if they have reasonable grounds to believe that an individual is vulnerable to being drawn into terrorism.” Placed within the context of lack of definable terms that communities can refer to makes the ‘reaonable grounds’ test completely arbitrary, as it will require that an individual officer make subjective assumptions about risks that are posed. The failure to include a clearly definable definition of extremism that may provide clarity in law to communities, is extremely dangerous and will lead to great dissatisfaction in communities as individuals are abused of their rights due to this assessment process.
What then, are the markers of ‘extremism’? Would an adult or child that expressed a desire to live their life in as accordance to shariah as possible be considered to be a form of ‘extremism’? Specifically what of those who promote the distribution of their inheritance according to Islamic law? What of those who speak of foreign affairs within schools and universities that is critical of government policy? The terms are so vague, that almost any part of thought or behaviour, might be considered by the public bodies coopted into this process as being indicators of risk. How are doctors, teachers, child minders or social workers supposed to understand culture and religion without falling into the hysteria that surrounds Muslims? It is these questions that highlight the absurdity of the draft Bill, and where it is so problematic.
Ultimately, the CTS Bill is presented as a consent based system where those over the age of 18 must be have their consent taken before any plan can be implemented to support them, and for those under 18, then the consent of their parents. However, the devil is in the detail, and where the consent is not gained, then the panels established to review each individual case of risk, will be able to consider models within the health and social services. In other words, the threat of having your children taken away, should you not provide consent, will be used as a form of coercion, so the very idea of a consent based approach will be completely neutralised.
The CTS Bill 2014 is an extremely dangerous development in counter-terrorism policy in the UK. It provides no clarity in the law, but rather, establishes a statutory framework that is unclear and will require by law to be implemented. The abuses that will stem from such a process are all too clear to evident, and it is extremely disconcerting that communities will be able to do very little to challenge the assumptions that are made against them, as the entire system of decision making is left in the hands of individuals with no publicly consulted guidance on what is considered to be a potential risk.
CAGE has continued to highlight the wide scope of anti-terror laws, their disproportionate application and detrimental impact on civil liberties and the rule of law. You can read CAGE’s full submission and the executive summary on Challenging the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill here, for ideas for your own submission to this open consultation you can see here.
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