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The Shawcross Review of Prevent: ‘Ideologically-Driven and Poorly Evidenced’

The People’s Review of Prevent refutes the recommendations made in a major Government report into the controversial counter-terrorism strategy

William Shawcross. Photo: Michael Kemp/Alamy

The Shawcross Review of Prevent Ideologically-Driven & Poorly Evidenced

The People’s Review of Prevent refutes the recommendations made in a major Government report into the controversial counter-terrorism strategy

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The People’s Review of Prevent has today published its detailed response to the independent review of the Government’s counter-extremism strategy by William Shawcross.

The Shawcross review of Prevent was published last month having been widely leaked to the right-wing media over the previous six months. The Home Secretary has accepted all of its recommendations and few of them will require parliamentary approval.

But the report is ideologically-driven, and poorly argued and evidenced.

Despite the time taken in its production, it fails to consider central aspects of the Prevent strategy that were within its remit and it comes to conclusions opposite to those that the limited evidence it cites would suggest.

The People’s Review of Prevent also shows that it is out of step with other recent reports on the Manchester Arena Inquiry and by the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation.

Its recommendations are authoritarian and represent a serious threat to civil liberties and human rights, especially those of children. Civicus Monitor has recently demoted the UK in its freedom rankings and the implementation of the Shawcross recommendations would represent a further deterioration.

Along with more than 200 organisations and individuals – including many involved in calling for a boycott of the review because of Shawcross’ perceived bias – we are calling on Parliament to withdraw his report and seek a moratorium on the implementation of its recommendations. 

The Shawcross review calls for the centralisation of Prevent within the Home Office and the responsibility for local Prevent panels removed from local authorities and placed with regional commissioners under a new unit within the Home Office. This is so despite the Home Office having no direct responsibility for the implementation of Prevent in Scotland.

This will involve an enhanced and directly political role for the Commission for Countering Extremism, which will no longer be advisory but will direct ‘due diligence’ across government departments and down to regional commissioners. From being a Counter Extremism ‘tsar’, the role of the Commissioner will become that of a ‘political commissar’, outside the civil service and directly responsible to the Home Secretary. 

It also proposed that Prevent should be re-directed away from right-wing extremism and toward ‘Islamist’ extremism through the central direction and greater involvement of the security services. However, the People’s Review of Prevent shows that the security services are already fully involved and that a greater proportion of Prevent referrals are recommended for the Channel de-radicalisation programme for right-wing extremism than for ‘Islamist’ extremism.

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In other words, the security services are currently regarding the risks to be greater for right-wing extremism in the cases already being referred.

The Shawcross review made much of the so-called failures of Prevent in relation to high-profile terrorism cases such as the Manchester Arena bombing. However, Volume 3 of the Manchester Arena Inquiry report – published after the Shawcross review – lays the failure at the door of security services and calls for an urgent review of how they function. 

Earlier initiatives had called for more autonomy for local authorities, not less, to reduce the burden of Prevent on the security services. It would be a serious error for the Shawcross recommendations of increased involvement by the security services to be implemented before the review recommended by the Manchester Arena Inquiry is undertaken.

Prevent is directed at ideas and behaviours which are deemed to be extreme but are not unlawful. Around 29% of referrals are of children under the age of 15, with the median age of referrals from the education sector being 14. 

The ‘Prevent Duty’ – on public sector workers to report individuals for possible referral – is set up as a safeguarding duty, but Shawcross wishes it be more focused on public safety and less upon the ‘vulnerabilities’ of individuals. Indeed, the latter should be regarded in terms of their ‘susceptibility’ not ‘vulnerability’ to radicalisation to indicate their agency and responsibility. 

He goes further and states that there are too many cases in which there is no ‘ideological’ element associated with terrorism present and that these should not be considered under Prevent because they indicate vulnerabilities that should be a matter of other support services. 

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Taken seriously, this is an argument that Prevent should be withdrawn from schools – where children and young people are a safeguarding concern – and health services. In the latter case, more people are referred to the health services from Prevent than are referred into Prevent from the health services. 

The People’s Review of Prevent shows that the strategy harms children and young people and that it poses serious issues of children’s rights. The Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, Jonathan Hall KC, has made the opposite recommendation, proposing that children and young people who have committed terrorism offences (usually non-violent offences) should be treated as ‘vulnerable’ rather than as responsible agents.  

The Shawcross review recommends serious disruption of the civil liberties of Muslims and Muslim-led civil society organisations. He labels critics of Prevent as “Islamist extremists” and names specific Muslim-led civil society organisations. One paragraph is striking – in which he states that “the campaign against Prevent has included some civil liberties groups and activists who seemingly, as a matter of principle, oppose a state-run scheme to counter specific ideas, attitudes, and non-criminal behaviours, no matter how light touch the scheme’s methods”.

Prevent is far from light-touch. But a ‘state-run’ scheme to counter ideas and attitudes that are not themselves unlawful is explicitly illiberal and authoritarian. It is also directly discriminatory.

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