64.The Prevent programme is part of the Government’s counter-terrorism strategy, CONTEST, which is aimed at preventing people from becoming terrorists. Under the Counter Terrorism and Security Act 2015, there is a legal requirement for certain specified authorities to deliver Prevent activities. These authorities include local authorities, schools, universities, health organisations, police, prisons and probation and education and health providers.
65.The Channel programme is a multi-agency strand of the Prevent programme, which identifies and supports individuals who are at risk of being drawn into terrorism. Section 36 of the Counter Terrorism and Security Act 2015 requires local authorities to establish a “Channel panel” to assess the risk and develop a support plan for the individual. At present only a police officer can refer an individual identified under Prevent to a Channel panel. Clause 18 would allow local authorities as well as the police to refer people regarded as vulnerable to being drawn into terrorism.
66.Our Committee, amongst many others, has previously called for an independent review of the Prevent programme, which has been widely criticised for alienating certain communities and undermining efforts to tackle counter-terrorism. Max Hill QC has “heard various examples of how [Prevent] is having a chilling effect in different contexts and adds to a strong sense of grievance [ … ] and urgent attention is required to address them.”
67.In evidence, a number of stakeholders have reiterated this call for an independent review. Dr. Charlotte Heath-Kelly at the University of Warwick has expressed serious concerns with local authority involvement in Prevent:
“We have found that this leads healthcare professionals and Local Authority processes to enquire into incidences of dissent and illiberal political beliefs–rather than vulnerability to abuse in persons with formal care needs (the legal definition of safeguarding). For example, during our study of local authority owned Prevent work, we found cases where children had been referred to safeguarding teams for watching Arabic television, and where adults were referred for planning pilgrimage trips. While these incidents did not reach Channel, it is crucial that the select committee investigate the low level, and misguided, monitoring of religiosity and political beliefs. People have a right to their beliefs without them being interpreted and medicalized as ‘vulnerabilities’.”
68.More recently, in its response to the Committee’s report on Freedom of Speech in Universities, the Government rejected calls for an independent review, but indicated that the Government’s counter-terrorism strategy (CONTEST) was being updated and Prevent would be part of this review.
69.We are concerned that the Prevent programme is being developed without first conducting an independent review of how the programme is currently operating. We are also concerned that any additional responsibility placed on local authorities must be accompanied by adequate training and resources to ensure that the authorities are equipped to identify individuals vulnerable to being drawn into terrorism. We reiterate our recommendation that the Prevent programme must be subject to independent review.
84 Joint Committee on Human Rights, Second Report of Session 2016–17, , HL Paper 39 / HC 105, Joint Committee on Human Rights, Fourth Report of Session 2017–19, HL Paper 111 / HC 589
85 Forward Thinking, , July 2017
86 Muslim Engagement and Development (Mend) () p 1, Prevent Digest () para 1
87 Dr. Charlotte Heath-Kelly, University of Warwick () p 1
Published: 10 July 2018