A coalition of human rights and community groups have said they will boycott the government’s review of the anti-radicalisation programme Prevent in protest at the appointment of William Shawcross as its chair.
In a joint statement, 17 groups with interest in human rights and communities, including Liberty, Amnesty International and the Runnymede Trust, said the appointment of Shawcross shows the review is there to “simply rubber-stamp” the controversial and divisive strategy, and they would not contribute to the exercise.
The Home Office has been approached for comment.
There have been calls for an independent review of Prevent for years, by critics who say it fosters discrimination against people of Muslim faith or background and inhibits legitimate expression.
The Prevent strategy includes a statutory duty for schools, NHS trusts, prisons and local authorities to report any concerns they have about people who may be at risk of turning to extremism. The Prevent duty has led to cases in which teachers have reported primary-school children to the police for having toy guns or talking about video games. There are thousands of referrals each year but just 11% of those referred are ultimately deemed to be at risk of radicalisation, the most recent figures show.
The review, announced in January 2019, has been beset by delays. It took 13 months to appoint Shawcross to lead it, after the government’s first choice, Lord Carlile, was forced to step down in December 2019 over partiality concerns.
In the statement, the groups said: “The appointments of both Shawcross and Lord Carlile have made clear, beyond doubt, that the UK government has no interest in conducting an objective and impartial review of the strategy, nor in engaging meaningfully with communities affected by it. We, the undersigned groups, cannot be complicit in a process that serves only to rubber-stamp a fundamentally flawed strategy.”
The groups announced that instead of participating in the government’s review, they will conduct a parallel review that “properly considers the harms of Prevent”.
In 2012, as a director of the neoconservative thinktank the Henry Jackson Society, Shawcross said: “Europe and Islam is one of the greatest, most terrifying problems of our future. I think all European countries have vastly, very quickly growing Islamic populations.”
The Charity Commission for England and Wales, under Shawcross’s tenure, was accused of institutional bias against Muslims by the Claystone thinktank, while Muslim groups have highlighted comments he made in his book Justice and the Enemy, which appear to support use of torture and the detention camp at Guantánamo Bay.
Rosalind Comyn, policy and campaigns manager at Liberty, said: “This exercise could have been a chance to properly scrutinise the premise and impacts of the Prevent strategy, which stifles speech, spreads fear and distrust, and encourages discrimination.
“But Liberty will no longer engage in the farce it has become. We need interventions that respect the rights of the people directly affected and that bring communities together – both Prevent and its review are very far removed from that ideal.”