justice and prevent – a misnomer and impossibility
The existence of the Prevent duty in the pre-crime space means access to justice is non-existent and almost impossible for those it harms. This is why it must be withdrawn from education and health especially.
Accessing justice can be a difficult process in the best of cases. But when it comes to Prevent cases, it is even harder. This is due to a lack of accountability around Prevent and its pre-crime nature.
If you are accused of a crime you have the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty; you can get access to a lawyer to defend you, and there will be safeguards in place to protect your rights when being questioned by the police.
However, if you are referred to Prevent you have not committed any crime yet you are not afforded the same rights nor safeguards.
Injustice and the Prevent duty
The fact that Prevent is a duty upon those who make the referrals means that even where referrals are made in a discriminatory manner, the common excuse is that it was not discriminatory and rather the referral was made as part of the person’s duty.
In the over 600 cases recorded to date by Prevent Watch, we have noticed a trend of denial by practitioners who have clearly exercised prejudice against an individual on the basis of race and/or religion when deciding to make a Prevent referral.
However, since the Prevent duty is their duty under safeguarding policy, those making referrals in this manner are often not held to account for breaching the Equalities Act. This is a challenge for those who feel discriminated against by Prevent, and who try to seek legal support to pursue a case, becuase the threshold is difficult to prove.
Many of the people who push Prevent would say that this is an example of poor training, but as we highlighted in the People’s Review of Prevent, Prevent training is part of the problem.
The nature of Prevent encourages individuals to flex both their conscious and unconscious bias with impunity.
This discrimination is most often felt by Muslims who make up a disproportionate number of Prevent referrals, since Islam is wrongly portrayed in the media as being associated with terrorism.
This idea that anyone anywhere could be a threat has eroded the trusting relationships required for a healthy society and effective public service.
Less rights than criminal suspects
Indeed, when even children are viewed with such a suspicious lens under the guise of safeguarding, which allows them to be questioned at school, in many cases without the knowledge or consent of their parents by counter terrorism officers, we have to ask how we got here.
The answer is through the unquestioned acceptance of Prevent, despite it being at the helm of a precrime approach in which there are no legal safeguards in place simply because no crime has happened. This is especially urgent when our children, who are innocent of any crime, are being treated with less rights than those who are charged of a crime.
The evidence for this is cases in which, under Prevent, children as young as eight years old have been questioned alone by counter terrorism officers.
When clients have asked why a suitable adult was not present such as the parent themselves (this would be the case if police adhere to protocol in PACE 1984), the police have suggested that they do not need to adhere to PACE 1984 because they are not investigating a crime.
How can Prevent be a ‘humane’ policy as suggested by Shawcross in his review, when a ‘reinvigorated’ Prevent means more Muslim children may be questioned by counter-terrorism with no rights or safeguards afforded to grown adults who are suspected of having actually committed a crime?
Lack of accountability within Prevent
Not only does Prevent presume an individual to be a future risk based on ideas and expressions of belief, but the level of coercion to engage with Prevent or accept Channel intervention has been widely reported in cases documented by Prevent Watch.
When we have reported our findings to those well-versed in law and justice, they are often confused as to how and why no justice has been sought for certain cases.
Many times the answer lies in the lack of accountability within Prevent, which after years of supporting individuals assert their rights, we believe has been designed to avoid accountability. This it does by ensuring that those who make referrals can simply blame the Prevent duty, or the Home Office.
In turn, as has happened in many cases, the Home Office can then blame those who implement the duty of not receiving adequate training or simply being a few ‘bad apples’.
But it is hard to make an argument for a bad apple when Prevent is a rotten tree that keeps bearing rotten fruit.
The implications of the Shawcross Report
Taking all this together, there are important questions to ask that have not been answered, despite these issues being publicly known prior to the Shawcross review of Prevent.
Again, another Prevent review skirts the most crucial issues at the core of Prevent, which have far-reaching implications for the erosion of justice by pre-crime policies.
The recent Shawcross recommendations will only increase the lack of accountability and increase the securitised frame through which individuals and even children are viewed. More discrimination will take place, with less space for legal challenge.
Instead of admitting this erosion of justice, Shawcross has recommended a special complaints unit that will be under the authority of the Home Office itself.
In over 600 cases of Prevent reported to Prevent Watch so far we have seen the lack of accountability across all levels of the Prevent infrastructure, and we brace ourselves for more. The consequences of this on the public service and individuals, cannot be underestimated.