Court finds government Prevent duty guidance unlawful
By Rona McCann
Prevent guidelines on inviting controversial figures to speak at universities have been declared to violate freedom of speech laws, an appeal court has ruled. The guidelines must now be rewritten.
The guidelines were said to be unbalanced, and lacked the accuracy needed to abide by universities’ obligation to both allow freedom of speech and prevent students from being drawn into terrorism.
The language used in the Prevent guidance was said to be “trenchant” by the appeal’s chief judges, who continued that the language “is not only intended to frame the decision of [universities] on the topic in question, it is likely to do so.”
A more balanced guidance that better fits the Secretary of State’s true aims of Prevent “would be very easily achievable”.
The ruling is part of a judicial review by Dr Salman Butt, a prominent Muslim writer and publisher who has in the past been accused of being a non-violent extremist. Butt brought forward his case against Prevent duty guidance after the comments were by made in a Downing Street press release announcing the publication of an updated version of the guidance.
The release stated that Butt had been identified by the Home Office’s Extremism Analysis Unit as a speaker who was “on record as expressing views contrary to British values”.
Butt claimed that as a direct result of the accusation, he had stopped receiving invitations to speak at universities.
His solicitor dubbed the ruling against the Prevent guidance as an important victory, which enables claims that it is too narrow, too prescriptive, and restricts free speech to be heard.
Prevent is a part of wider government strategy against terrorism, aimed at stopping people from being radicalised, with a focus on non-violent extremism. Prevent guidance defines extremism as “vocal or active opposition to fundamental ‘British values’, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs”.
Butt has expressed his concern over how Prevent duty guidance may affect people in more everyday situations, by saying “I haven’t had any other problems ever. At borders and stuff, they just let me through.
“I think if you just stand up and challenge something, they let you go. It’s the poor guys who just keep their heads down that keep getting hassled by Prevent. I think that’s what Prevent relies on; people just not knowing their rights.”