Prevent: What are my rights?

What is the Prevent duty? What happens if you have been referred to Prevent? What are your rights?

Disclaimer: This article is for general information. It is not intended to be used as legal advice. See the ‘Getting support’ section below for further details about organisations offering tailored advice and support for individuals who have been referred to Prevent.

What is the Prevent duty?

First introduced in 2005, the Prevent strategy is the Government’s flagship counter-extremism policy. It aims to identify and intervene with people at risk of committing terrorist acts.

Section 26(1) of the Counter Terrorism and Security Act 2015 imposes the ‘Prevent duty’ on public bodies, which includes the police, schools, universities, social services and healthcare providers. The Prevent duty requires public bodies to have “due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism.

This means that public sector workers including your schoolteacher, NHS doctor, social worker or public body employer, can monitor and make referrals to expert officers in the local police force if they suspect that you are vulnerable to radicalisation.

The Prevent duty also requires public sector workers to avoid exposing people to extremist views.

There is not an obligation on public sector workers to report people under Prevent – they must simply have due regard to the Prevent duty. ‘Due regard’ means that public sector workers should “place an appropriate amount of weight on the need to prevent people being drawn into terrorism when they consider all the other factors relevant to how they carry out their usual functions.”

The Prevent programme is not targeted towards any specific age group, although young people aged between 11 and 15 years old make up a large number of Prevent referrals each year.

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Radicalisation is the process when a person “develops extreme views or beliefs that support [and in some cases, leads them to participate in] terrorist groups or activities.

In the 2011 Prevent Strategy, the Government defined extremism as “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.”

On 14 March 2024, the Government announced a new and wider definition of extremism: “the promotion or advancement of an ideology based on violence, hatred or intolerance, that aims to:

  1. negate or destroy the fundamental rights and freedoms of others; or
  2. undermine, overturn or replace the UK’s system of liberal parliamentary democracy and democratic rights; or
  3. intentionally create a permissive environment for others to achieve the results in (1) or (2).”

This new definition is non-statutory, meaning that it cannot be legally enforced. It is unclear at this stage how this new definition will be adopted and applied in the context of identifying individuals for Prevent; however, many civil society groups and voices from across the political spectrum have warned that it will create further confusion among public bodies who may use the new and broader definition. There are concerns that this has the potential to further suppress legitimate political expression, especially by marginalised communities such as Muslims and Palestinian groups, who were already disproportionately impacted by Prevent under the previous definition.

What happens if you are referred to Prevent?

A Prevent referral is first assessed and screened by the local police force for ‘genuine vulnerability’ related to counter-terrorism. The referral is then passed to a multi-agency panel of professionals (which includes the local authority and the police), to assess whether the person is suitable for Prevent’s specialist support scheme, ‘Channel’. If the panel decides that a person is at risk, they will be invited to join Channel. The Channel programme takes a “multi-agency approach to identify and provide support to individuals who are at risk of being drawn into terrorist-related activity”, which can include careers advice, mental health support and ‘ideological mentoring’ from a specialist provider.

Prevent referrals do not appear on your criminal record, nor do they result in any other form of sanction. A Prevent referral should not affect your education or career prospects.

People who have been referred to Prevent are often approached for questioning or ‘informal chats’ by Counter-Terrorism Police (SO15) Officers or social workers to discuss their political, cultural or religious beliefs.

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The Prevent Case Management System Database

Details of each Prevent referral are added to the Prevent Case Management System Database (‘PCM’) by individual police forces. These details will include the reasons for the referral, and the individual’s personal details including:

  • name
  • religion
  • social media name
  • ethnicity
  • nationality
  • main language
  • immigration or asylum status
  • any additional family details
  • health details, e.g. any information on neurodivergence and mental health
  • any relevant ‘cultural factors’

Any rank of police officer or staff from police forces across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland can access the PCM Database; however, these officers must be trained and vetted ‘Prevent practitioners’. The Home Office also has access to the PCM Database.

Unless an application for the deletion of these records is made (see below), records on the PCM Database are retained for at least 6 years under the police’s National Retention Assessment Criteria policy.

Although the Channel programme is a confidential and voluntary scheme, information shared as part of the Channel process may be disclosed to a third party, when it is ‘legal, necessary and proportionate to do so’, e.g. during family court proceedings.

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What are your rights?

Once a Prevent referral is made, engagement with the Prevent programme, including participation in the Channel scheme is voluntary.

If you are identified for the Channel programme, and choose not to take part in it, you could be signposted to other services instead, e.g. mental health or social care services.

Engagement with the Prevent programme once a referral is made cannot be presented as mandatory, even if police officers and/or other public sector workers try to say that it is. You cannot be told that there will be consequences if you refuse to engage with the Prevent programme.

If you are approached by a police officer, social worker, teacher or another public sector worker for any questioning about your cultural, religious or political beliefs, it is important to find out the real reason why they want to speak to you – even if you are unsure whether you have been referred to Prevent. You should find out:

  • If and why a Prevent referral was made;
  • Why they want to speak to you; and
  • Which organisations are involved in the referral.

It is important to keep a record of this information by asking for their answers to be put in writing to you, rather than in a verbal conversation. You should keep your own note for any information that they provide verbally. You should also exercise your right not to answer any questions without this information being provided to you, and once you have had the opportunity to seek advice.

If you are approached for questioning by a police officer, you should get in touch with a lawyer to advise you first, and communicate on your behalf.

See the ‘Getting support’ section below for further details about organisations offering advice and support for individuals who have been referred to Prevent.

Young people’s rights

If you are under 18 years old, consent to participate in the Channel programme must be given by a parent or guardian.

You should not engage in any questioning from a police officer, teacher, social worker or any other public sector worker about your cultural, religious or political beliefs without an appropriate adult being present, e.g. a parent or guardian.

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Removing your records from the Prevent Case Management System Database

If you are concerned about the inclusion of your data on the PCM Database because you have been referred to Prevent or you are worried that you might have been, College of Policing guidance has confirmed that individuals have the right to apply to their local chief police officer to have all or part of their records deleted (‘erased’).  You can exercise this right by writing to your local police force and setting out the details of the information that you want to be deleted, i.e. the records related to your referral that the police hold on the PCM Database. You should also set out the reasons why you require this information to be deleted, e.g. the referral was assessed as not suitable for intervention under Channel or that the retention of the data is causing a negative impact on your mental health.

If you are writing on behalf of someone (with their consent), you must say so when you write to the police.

A request for the erasure of your records will trigger a review by the police force. They must then respond to you either 1) confirming that they will delete the data held from the database as you have requested or 2) refuse your request, and set out their reasons why. When the police are considering your request for erasure, they must consider whether “it remains necessary for policing purposes to retain that information.” Policing purposes include:

  • the prevention and detection of crime
  • apprehension and prosecution of offenders
  • protecting life and property
  • preserving order
  • maintenance of law and order
  • national security

If the police refuse to delete your data, you should seek legal advice from a lawyer that specialises in public law and claims against public authorities, to explore a possible legal challenge against their refusal.

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Why should we be concerned by the Prevent programme?

Civil society groups have expressed concerns about the Prevent strategy since its introduction in 2005, and its ongoing impact, particularly on the Muslim community, children and neurodiverse people (who are all disproportionately represented in the number of Prevent referrals). Many Prevent referrals have been based on incorrect connections between expressions of faith, solidarity and political dissent, and ‘extremism’ and ‘radicalisation’.

In Amnesty’s This Is The Thought Police report, they published research finding that Prevent referrals resulted in negative impacts on mental health and people modifying their behaviour “including refraining from participating in protests and from expressing their political and religious views, because they fear being flagged and thus stigmatised by association with Prevent.

Liberty warns that the Prevent programme has eroded trust between marginalised communities and public bodies and exacerbated the feelings of suspicion, isolation and stigmatisation that these communities have historically faced at the hands of the state. There are also serious concerns about the impact of the Prevent programme on our rights under the Equality Act 2010, data protection laws, and our rights protected under the Human Rights Act 1998, including:

Liberty’s full position statement on the Prevent strategy

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  • In the year ending 31 March 2023, there were 6,817 referrals to Prevent – out of these cases, over 90% of Prevent referrals did not meet the criteria for intervention.
  • A 4-year-old Muslim boy was referred to Prevent in September 2019 after talking about the video game, Fortnite, at an afterschool club.
  • In November 2023, North Yorkshire Police turned up to someone’s doorstep following a Prevent referral that was made after she tweeted “From the river to the sea” – a Palestinian slogan of liberation.
  • In 2021, an 11-year-old primary school student was referred to Prevent after a teacher misheard the student say that he wanted to “give alms for the oppressed” as “give arms to the oppressed.

Getting support

The following organisations provide advice and support for individuals who have been referred to Prevent:

Prevent Watch

Prevent Watch provides free tailored advice and information to individuals impacted by Prevent.


Maslaha’s Coming Home project provides free therapeutic support and counselling services to those (particularly Muslims) impacted by state surveillance and policing mechanisms such as Prevent.

Trade Unions

If you have been referred to Prevent by your employer, you should also raise this with your trade union.

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What are my rights on this?

Find out more about your rights and how the Human Rights Act protects them

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