Media By: Marina Wheeler


Prevent Duty Guidance withstands “clamorous” criticism

5 August 2017 by

R (Salman Butt) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2017] EWHC 1930 – read judgment

In the wake of the London and Manchester attacks, the government’s counter-terrorism strategy is increasingly in the news and under scrutiny.  Radicalisation is  a difficult concept to map on to a system like ours, which separates the definition of criminal behaviour and punishment from civil sanctions. In this week’s podcast, Marina Wheeler discusses some of the ways the law is trying to cope (Law Pod UK Episode 8, available free on iTunes). She and others from 1 Crown Office Row will be discussing this and related issues at a seminar on Monday 11 September. 

At the end of July 2017, Mr Justice Ouseley upheld one element of the government’s counter-terrorism strategy – the Prevent Duty Guidance to universities (and other further and higher education bodies) which aims at “stopping extremists from radicalising students on campuses”.  He also rejected a complaint that the work of the Home Office’s Extremism Analysis Unit (EAU), breached the Article 8 privacy rights of the claimant, Dr Salman Butt.

We posted a summary of this ruling last week. 1 Crown Office Row’s Oliver Sanders and Amelia Walker represented the Secretary of State. Paul Bowen QC and Zahra Al-Rikabi represented Dr Butt.

In 2011 the Strategy was revised to cover the journey from extremism towards terrorist-related activity (including by the far-right). This attracted criticism, examples of which were collated and presented to support the claimant’s challenge to the lawfulness of the measures.  But Ouseley J dismissed all heads of claim, observing that he was

not concerned with whether some oppose the CTSA, or regard the Prevent Duty as counter-productive or have made it so, deliberately or through misunderstanding it.

What was decisive in this case was the absence of evidence that the Prevent Duty Guidance had had a chilling effect on free speech or academic freedom, as claimed.  The Prevent Duty Guidance, under section 26 of the CTSA, only came into force in 2015.  As those who apply it gain experience and confidence, they will make better judgments. But there will always be some mistakes. One way to avoid these is to have constructive discussion about the process, informed by evidence, not drowned out by “clamorous” criticism.
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