The government has conceded its position on all grounds in relation to the legal challenge brought by Rights Watch (UK) regarding the Independent Review of the Prevent programme.
The government confirmed yesterday that it will not defend the case and that Lord Carlile will no longer fulfil the post of Independent Reviewer of Prevent.
The Government Legal Department stated that the government is currently considering options relating to a future review.
The Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019 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 Rights Watch (UK)) regarding significant human rights harms arising from the Prevent strategy, including the discriminatory nature of the policy and its adverse impacts on freedom of speech and religion.
Rights Watch (UK) issued judicial review proceedings in the High Court on 16 October 2019 to challenge the Secretary of State for the Home Department’s appointment of Lord Carlile and the issuing of overly confined Terms of Reference. The group argued in their case that Lord Carlile could not be truly independent because he oversaw the Government's first review of Prevent in 2011, sat on the Prevent Oversight Board in recent years and has expressed strong and public support for the strategy.
Rights Watch (UK) also argued that the Terms of Reference, which have now been scrapped, limited the scope of the Independent Reviewer’s inquiry in a way that is unlawful.
Rights Watch (UK) now hopes that the Government will fulfil the mandate set down by the 2019 Act and conduct a truly independent and thorough review of the prevent programme.
“We are pleased that the Government has conceded that the independent reviewer of Prevent and terms of reference need to be rethought. It is regrettable that it has taken the threat of a court hearing and a delay of over four months for this concession to be made. However, we hope that reconsideration of the independent reviewer and approach to the terms of reference will lead to a much needed, rigorous and thorough review of the controversial Prevent strategy.”
Yasmine Ahmed, Executive Director of Rights Watch UK, added:
“This is an outstanding victory for those who are committed to seeing a genuine and robust review of the Prevent strategy. Our concerns with Lord Carlile have always been clear, and well-evidenced. His long-standing objection to any kind of criticism or overhaul of Prevent is no secret and he has a track record of discrediting those who raised concerns about Prevent. This meant the Review lacked buy-in and cooperation from those it most needed to engage.
“It is critical, now more than ever, that we have an effective and independent Review that can properly and thoroughly scrutinise the Government’s approach to countering terrorism. This is not the time for the Government to be marking their own homework by watering down the Terms of Reference or the stringency of the Review when the efficacy of its counter-terrorism needs to be carefully and robustly assessed. It is critical that this Review is equipped to achieve that outcome; our lives and liberty are at stake.”
Dan Squires QC and Tim James-Matthews from Matrix Chambers were instructed in the case.