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Rights Watch (UK) to Challenge Appointment of Independent Reviewer of Prevent

Human rights charity Rights Watch (UK) (RW(UK)) have sent a letter before action to the government to challenge the appointment of the Independent Reviewer of Prevent, Lord Carlile of Berriew.

Houses of Parliament

29 August 2019

Human rights charity Rights Watch (UK) (RW(UK)) have sent a letter before action to the government to challenge the appointment of the Independent Reviewer of Prevent, Lord Carlile of Berriew. The Prevent strategy is a policy which aims to ‘stop people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism’. It is targeted at preventing extremism which is defined as 'vocal opposition to Fundamental British Values'.

Rights Watch (UK), represented by law firm Leigh Day, believes that the government’s decision to appoint Lord Carlile was unlawful because, in so doing, the Secretary of State has acted contrary to the requirement under section 20(8) of the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019 (the 2019 Act) for an independent review of the Prevent Strategy. RW(UK) believes that a review of Prevent with Lord Carlile at the helm cannot be truly independent, because Lord Carlile oversaw the government's first review of Prevent in 2011, and has been a member of the Prevent Oversight Board in recent years.
 
In the 2019 Act, Parliament required the Secretary of State to conduct an “independent” review of the Prevent strategy. It did so because of concerns raised, over a number of years, by Parliamentarians, community groups and NGOs (including RW(UK)) regarding significant human rights harms arising from the Prevent strategy, including the discriminatory nature of the policy and adverse impacts on freedom of speech and religion. Given the nature of the debate about Prevent, a key element of that review was that it be “independent”. In the letter before action sent on 20 August 2019, RW(UK) argue that that Lord Carlile cannot be considered independent or capable of conducting a truly rigorous assessment of Prevent, as he on public record expressing his clear support for the Prevent strategy and criticised those who oppose it. It is also argued that Lord Carlile’s own decisions, acts, omissions or conduct are potentially matters which an independent review of the Prevent strategy may, directly or indirectly, call into question.
 
This is the second letter before action sent by the charity to the government. The first letter before action was sent before the appointment of Lord Carlile was announced and challenged the Government’s failure to publicly consult on the appointment or even advertise the role. In that letter, RW(UK) argued that the appointment process was flawed, in that it failed to provide information about the selection criteria and process, publicly advertise the job, and consult with key stakeholders including the NGOs directly involved with calling for an independent review.  In addition, RW (UK) have also argued that the Secretary of State for the Home Department acted in breach of her public sector equality duty under the Equality Act 2010.
 
The Secretary of State responded to the first Letter before Action rejecting the arguments put forward by RW(UK) and then announced the appointment of Lord Carlile on 12 August 2019.
 
In their second Letter before Action, RW(UK) have now asked the government to provide further information regarding the details of the decision-making process and what considerations were given to the equality implications of the decision to appoint Lord Carlile. If no satisfactory response is provided, the group intend to issue judicial review proceedings. 
 
Since its inception in 2003, there have been several iterations of the Prevent strategy, including an update in 2011 by the Coalition government, following the review overseen by Lord Carlile. The revised Prevent strategy broadened the scope of the policy, and laid the foundation for the most controversial aspect of Prevent; the 2015 statutory duty on specified authorities. This statutory duty places an onus on those working in schools, health and social services, to report any signs of 'extremism' in patients or students in their charge, and to make referrals to the government’s counter-radicalisation Channel programme.
 
This duty has led to a massive increase in Prevent referrals. In 2017/18 over 7,000 individuals, including children, were referred to the Prevent programme, the vast majority of which (95%) did not require action under the Channel programme.
 
Yasmine Ahmed, Director of Rights Watch (UK) commented:
 
“The long overdue Independent Review of Prevent, a key pillar of the UK’s counter terrorism strategy, is in danger of becoming a ‘whitewash’ with the announcement of Lord Carlile of Berriew as the independent reviewer.
 
“It beggars belief that the government could consider Lord Carlile as an appropriate independent candidate for this important role. The Independent Review of Prevent will have a fundamental role in shaping the impact and effectiveness of a critical strand of the UK's security policy, that has to date given rise to significant and pervasive human rights harms. This appointment fundamentally undermines the credibility of the review and risks de-railing the entire process, and we are prepared to challenge the decision in court.”
 
Carolin Ott from Leigh Day representing Rights Watch (UK), added:
 

“Our client is quite rightly concerned that the government’s appointment for Independent reviewer of Prevent seems to be anything but independent. Not only did Lord Carlile oversee the 2011 review of Prevent, but he also held a role on the Prevent Oversight Board, an internal oversight body charged with “driving delivery” of Prevent. Of further concern is the fact that he is on the public record expressing his support for Prevent, and argued in Parliament against the very establishment of the review, even conceding that he is “biased towards” Prevent. It is very difficult to see how he can be described as independent, and our client argues that it is therefore inappropriate for him to carry out the review of this controversial strategy.”

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