Counter-terrorism – UK Government assessment
The UK Government has introduced legislation aimed at tackling terrorism, following a number of terrorist incidents. While the UK Government has a duty to protect the right to life, the impact of this new legislation on civil liberties has been criticised. Several longstanding human rights concerns, including the length of pre-charge detention, have not been addressed and concerns about disproportionality remain. However, there is evidence that the use of certain police powers has decreased, and that Prevent referrals have become more balanced.
- Since 2016, trends in referrals under the Prevent duty have fluctuated: referrals peaked in 2015–16 and were at their lowest in 2018–2019, before increasing again the following year. Of the 2020 referrals, 23% were discussed at a ‘Channel panel’ and 11% were adopted as a ‘Channel case’ for support. 54% of Prevent referrals and 58% of adopted Channel cases were aged 20 years or under. Approximately 25% of Prevent referrals were aged under 15.
- In 2020, Prevent referrals for concerns over Islamist terrorism saw the first year-on-year increase since 2016. However, disproportionality in referrals due to Islamist terrorism has reduced. In 2020, 24% of referrals were for Islamist radicalisation and 22% concerned right-wing radicalisation. By comparison, in 2016, 65% of referrals related to Islamist extremism.
- There are longstanding concerns about the rights implications of the Prevent duty, including the risk of discrimination against Muslim people, and the impact on privacy rights, freedom of expression and the right to education.
- In 2019, aspects of the Prevent duty guidance for higher education institutions in England and Wales were ruled as unlawful by the Court of Appeal. The Home Office is yet to update the guidance to reflect the court’s judgment.
- Stakeholders have raised concerns about the independence of the previous and current appointees as Independent Reviewer of Prevent, with a number of key organisations deciding to boycott the upcoming review and launch a parallel review of Prevent.
- The use of deprivation of British citizenship orders to deal with terrorist suspects increased rapidly between 2016 and 2017, before reducing again in 2018. We are concerned that existing safeguards to ensure that citizenship deprivation will not render individuals stateless are insufficient.
- Between 2016 and 2020, there was an 83% decrease in the use of police powers to stop, search and detain individuals at airports and ports. However, the number of Asian people detained under these powers remains disproportionately high when compared with White people.
- There are concerns over the extension of police powers under the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019, including to question and detain individuals at ports and borders without the need for reasonable suspicion.
- The changes introduced in the Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Act 2021 led to a number of human rights concerns, including over the lack of evidence to justify increasing custodial sentences.
- There is limited data on the use of closed material procedures, making it difficult to assess whether they are being used appropriately, although their use appears to have decreased between 2016 and 2019.
- Despite the UN Human Rights Committee’s 2015 recommendations to the UK, the maximum period of pre-charge detention in terrorism cases with judicial authorisation has not been reduced from 14 days, and the definition of terrorism in section 1 of the Terrorism Act 2000 has not been revised.
Read more about the UK Government’s actions on counter-terrorism.