I attended Abror House in Crawford Place, London W1 for an evening event jointly organised by City Circle @thecitycircle and the Association of Muslim Lawyers, principally focussed on Prevent. I spoke alongside one of my Special Advisers and fellow barrister Hashi Mohamed @hm_hashi . We heard an impassioned but constructive plea from Kevin Courtney, General Secretary of the NUT, who argues that the statutory duty should be lifted from the education sector, upon the basis that teachers have long safeguarded their pupils and have no need of Prevent on a statutory footing. Many in the packed hall agreed, and there were others who contended the same in relation to the health sector. I was particularly pleased to hear from many individuals, who came to speak to me at the conclusion of the formal event and who provided valuable insight and recommendations for the future of terrorism legislation.
My speech included the Â following:
I start by telling you that I have been an independent, self-employed barrister for 30 years, and nothing has changed. I have not become a Minister, nor Home Office official, nor civil servant overnight. I have no contract of employment with the Government, the Home Office or any other ministry. I remain an independent lawyer and QC.
So to the essentials ofÂ my new role.
The Independent Reviewerâ€™s role is to monitor UK counter- terrorism legislation for its fairness, effectiveness and proportionality.
The essence of independent review lies in the combination of three concepts not often seen together:Â complete independence from Government; unrestricted access to classified documents and national security personnel; and a statutory obligation on Government to lay the Independent Reviewerâ€™s reports before Parliament on receipt.
Next, the single most significant event during my short seven weeks as Independent Reviewer, the Westminster attack, amounting to multiple murder by one individual.
I want to make the following brief points about this horrific act:
- Commenting too early about a terrorist incident is usually a mistake. I did not do so, restricting myself to a tweet and a single website post. I shall do my best not to be drawn into knee-jerk reaction to any future events.
- The first point is made good by two simple facts; so-called IS claimed the attacker as one of their own within 24 hours, but it turns out they thought he was another man, and they were wrong. Plus, some commentators chose to use the attack as evidence against UK immigration policy, until it was revealed that Masood was born in this country. Another serious mistake.
- Had he survived, in my view Masood would have been charged with 5 counts of Murder and many more of attempted Murder; in other words, prosecutors would have been unlikely to have needed the provisions of the Terrorism Acts.
- This means that there should not be any call for more terrorism offences in the wake of this attack, and I have been pleased to see that there is little if any lobbying to this effect.
- Whilst resisting hasty comment as in all other areas, there is a need for greater vigilance and efforts in the area of social media and online messaging. It is good to know that social media companies are setting up, as I understand it, a joint database for the removal of extremist materials. This is a much-needed initiative and I hope it will prove valuable. Creative solutions to the serious problem of extremist material and online propaganda do need to be found, but found without trampling upon fundamental freedoms including freedom of speech for all. We must all of us walk the line between freedom to express views which do not break our laws, and going so far that criminal offences are committed and action must be taken.
- Those who waited before commenting were able to see an efficient and timely investigation by the Police and others, leading to the conclusion that Masood acted alone. Worrying though this is, and it represents an alarming facet of the threat we face in this country at this time, it plainly does not call for any form of crackdown on communities around Britain. A more sophisticated approach is clearly needed.
- And finally for now, we should be grateful to note that the national threat level, which remains at severe, was not raised to critical at any stage either during or after the Westminster attack. This tells us that cool and calm heads were applied from the outset, and we should be grateful to our police and intelligence services for what they do.
Finally,Â I remind you if you do not already know that strictly speaking Prevent is outside my remit. I am not the reviewer of Prevent, indeed there is none. You should neither expect me to speak for the Home Office about Prevent, not my job, nor to speak against it. I am here to listen to others views and I can promise nothing more than that.
That said, I do think it may be worthwhile calling to mind theÂ Joint Committee on Human RightsÂ Counter-Extremism Second Report of Session 2016 (published 20 July 2016)
I do so because I was booked to give evidence before the Joint Committee, sitting together with the Home Affairs Select Committee, next Wednesday 3rd May. This report was no doubt part of the agenda for that event, which has now been postponed because of the General Election and the dissolution of Parliament.Â Nonetheless, I remind you of some of the
Conclusions and recommendations, tabled by the JCHR last July, at which time the political agenda included not only Prevent but also the prospect of a counter-extremism bill, albeit we have seen no recent sign of the latter.
May I remind you of the following nine conclusions and recommendations by the JCHR (and I then quoted from paragraphs 34, 35, 42, 50, 62, 63, 64, 74 and 75 of the JCHR Report).
I am, at this time, non-partisan in relation to Prevent and indeed counter-extremism, neither of which are directly engaged by the statutes which I review. However, it would be foolish to ignore the indirect impact of these issues, so I hope this reminder serves to promote discussion this evening.