Counter-terrorism / Prevent
Rights groups boycott Prevent Review
Posted on 16 Feb 2021
Rights and community groups have accused the Government of using the Prevent review to rubber stamp the strategy after the appointment of William Shawcross as reviewer
- Boycott announced by 17 groups including Open Society Justice Initiative, Liberty, Muslim Engagement and Development, and Amnesty International
- Move follows appointment of reviewer who has expressed Islamophobic views
- Faith lost in long-needed review of fundamentally flawed Prevent strategy
Rights and community groups have announced a collective boycott of the Government’s review of the Prevent strategy following the appointment of William Shawcross as the new reviewer.
Together 17 groups have issued a joint statement  saying the appointment of Shawcross – who has in the past expressed Islamophobic views – confirms their suspicion of what the Government is using this review for. Instead of looking critically at the impact on the communities Prevent targets, the groups say the appointment shows the exercise is there to simply ‘rubber stamp’ the controversial and divisive strategy.
The groups – which include the Open Society Justice Initiative, Liberty, Muslim Engagement and Development, and Amnesty International – also announced that, in lieu of participating in the government’s review they will conduct a parallel review that properly considers the harms of Prevent.
Shawcross was appointed as Prevent reviewer by the Government to replace Lord Carlile, who was removed following legal action by Rights and Security International over the fact Lord Carlile was involved in oversight of Prevent, had previously declared his “considered and strong support” for the strategy, and was on record acknowledging his bias towards it.
Shawcross has also made past comments which call in to doubt his suitability as an independent reviewer. While a director of the Henry Jackson Society, Shawcross said: “Europe and Islam is one of the greatest, most terrifying problems of our future. I think all European countries have vastly, very quickly growing Islamic populations.”
In the statement the groups said: “The appointments of both Shawcross and Lord Carlile have made clear, beyond doubt, that the UK government has no interest in conducting an objective and impartial review of the strategy, nor in engaging meaningfully with communities affected by it… We, the undersigned groups, cannot be complicit in a process that serves only to rubber stamp a fundamentally flawed strategy.”
The Prevent review was established in response to rights and community groups long raising serious concerns about the discriminatory and anti-Muslim impact of Prevent and its potential to violate core human rights and freedoms.
The Prevent duty requires public servants like teachers, doctors and social workers to have “due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism.” In effect, the duty requires them to make referrals to the police based on what their pupils and patients are perceived to think or believe.
Thousands of people – including children – have been referred to Prevent since the duty came into force. Last year alone there were 6,287 referrals, a 10% increase on the previous year.
The Prevent duty has led to incidents which have seen teachers report primary school aged children to the police for things like having toy guns or talking about video games. These are examples of how Prevent sows discrimination at the heart of public services – stifling speech and spreading fear and distrust as a result.
Last year Liberty revealed that the details of everyone referred to Prevent are stored on a huge police database, regardless as to whether any further action is taken. People still do not know if they are on the database, what data is held on them, how it is used, who it is shared with or what decisions it influences.
The groups said for these reasons they had been eager to engage in a properly independent review – but that the appointment of Lord Carlile and then Shawcross have fundamentally undermined its credibility.
Jana Sadler-Forster, a lawyer with the Open Society Justice Initiative, said: “Had the government been willing to undertake a genuine independent review, we were ready to participate constructively. However, given the appointment – for the second time – of a patently inappropriate reviewer, we cannot be complicit in the government’s efforts to whitewash a strategy that continues to negatively and disproportionately impact Muslim communities in the UK every day.”
Rosalind Comyn, Liberty policy and campaigns manager, said: “When people suspect there is injustice planted at the heart of the public services they access the least they can expect is the Government of the day to undertake a serious independent investigation. But the Prevent review has shown that the Government is determined to ignore the damage this programme is causing – particularly to Muslims and people of colour.
“This is just the latest in a long string of failures which show any review carried out by this Government will never be independent. This exercise could have been a chance to properly scrutinise the premise and impacts of the Prevent strategy – which stifles speech, spreads fear and distrust, and encourages discrimination. But Liberty will no longer engage in the farce it has become. We need interventions that respect the rights of the people directly affected and that bring communities together – both Prevent and its review are very far removed from that ideal.”
Isobel Ingham-Barrow, from Muslim Engagement and Development, said: “We originally regarded the independent review as an important mechanism for ensuring genuine evidence-driven change to the structurally Islamophobic Prevent strategy.
“However, with the appointment of someone with the Islamophobic credentials of William Shawcross, the Government has given up any pretence of sincerity and its purposeful manoeuvring obstructs any honest scrutiny of a policy which is responsible for serious abuses to the rights and freedoms of minority communities.
“As this is a question of securing social justice, equality, and freedom for all, we cannot in good conscience engage with a review that no longer has any credibility nor remit to reach objective and meaningful conclusions.”
Joint Public Statement: NGOs Condemn Appointment of William Shawcross and Announce Civil Society-led Review of Prevent
We, the undersigned civil society organisations, express grave concern at the UK government’s appointment of William Shawcross as the new reviewer of the counter-terrorism strategy Prevent. Shawcross has been appointed to replace Lord Carlile, who was removed from the post following a legal challenge last year. The appointments of both Shawcross and Lord Carlile have made clear, beyond doubt, that the UK government has no interest in conducting an objective and impartial review of the strategy, nor in engaging meaningfully with communities affected by it. Instead, it is apparent that the government intends to use this review to whitewash the strategy and give it a clean bill of health, without interrogating, in good faith, its impacts on human rights and fundamental freedoms. Without these perspectives, it is impossible to impartially assess the Prevent policy.
We, the undersigned groups, cannot be complicit in a process that serves only to rubber stamp a fundamentally flawed strategy. We therefore announce a collective boycott of the Prevent review. In lieu of participating in the government’s review, civil society groups will conduct a parallel review that properly considers the harms of Prevent, including documenting discrimination and rights violations caused by it.
We, and other non-governmental organisations, have long raised concerns about the discriminatory and anti-Muslim impact of Prevent and its potential to violate core human rights. Many of us were eager to provide evidence to a properly independent review, and to engage with the appointed reviewer. However, Shawcross’s appointment, given his well-known record and previous statements on Islam, and following the debacle of the Carlile appointment, brings into question the good faith of the government in establishing the review and fundamentally undermines its credibility. As a director of the Henry Jackson Society, Shawcross expressed patently Islamophobic views, saying: “Europe and Islam is one of the greatest, most terrifying problems of our future. I think all European countries have vastly, very quickly growing Islamic populations.” As far as we are aware, he has never publicly disavowed these comments. During the period when the Charity Commission was chaired by Shawcross, it was accused of disproportionately focusing on Muslim charities, including by putting them under investigation.
The UK government must fundamentally reconsider its flawed and counter-productive counter-terrorism strategy, which has profound and far-reaching human rights impacts. We condemn its lack of political will to carry out this crucial task—the price of which continues to be disproportionately paid by Muslims across the UK.
Big Brother Watch
C.A.R.E. – Coalition of Anti-Racist Educators
Child Rights International Network (CRIN)
Inclusive Mosque Group
Network for Police Monitoring (Netpol)
No More Exclusions
Northern Police Monitoring Project
Open Society Justice Initiative
The Runnymede Trust
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